Posts Tagged marigold “Queen Sophia”

Dream Time

Decisions, decisions …

They’ve been piling up for the last two months: seed catalogs – and plant nursery catalogs too. Their arrival usually signals the onset of my garden dream time – the frozen month or so during which I peruse the colorful pictures and descriptions contained in these myriad purveyors of temptation. However, this winter I’ve mostly been piling the catalogs in a corner for later reading while I take advantage of the continuing abnormal seasonal warmth to complete more yard and garden clean-up chores.

This past weekend, Wonder Spouse and I tackled our deer-fence-enclosed north slope. Mountains of evil Microstegium vimineum were raked up and hauled away, along with vast piles of tree limbs and tangles of Japanese Honeysuckle pulled from soft ground and off trees it was trying to strangle. Poison Ivy was gingerly dislodged from the base of a large Tulip Poplar. Leaves were raked and relocated around trees and shrubs – instant mulch. We were tired and sore but proud of our accomplishments after two days of hard work.

The catalogs continued to accumulate in their designated corner unread. I’d tell myself I’d get to them in the evenings, but found myself too tired to keep my eyes open after a long day of debris wrestling. Finally, during yesterday’s rain, I sat with the catalogs long enough to settle on my seed needs for the upcoming vegetable garden season. As is my usual practice, my choices combine old reliable favorites with a few new temptations that I feel obliged to try out in this year’s garden.

I always start with the tomatoes for two reasons. First, whole catalogs are devoted to them, so there’s more to study. Second, my greatest struggle every year is to limit myself to a sane number of varieties. My willpower is strongest when I begin my selections, so I settle on my tomato choices first.

Last season, I grew seven different varieties of tomatoes, as I described here. This year, I’ve managed to limit myself to six varieties. It was almost five, but a variety in my main seed source’s catalog was too interesting to resist.  Here are this year’s selections:

  • Early Goliath – We grew this one last year and were so pleased with its early and continuing productivity that we are growing it again.
  • Big Beef – This variety continues to please with its enormous, flavorful slicers that begin to ripen about mid-season and continue through hard frost.
  • Viva Italia – We find this roma-type paste tomato to be indispensible for sauces, and they’re meaty enough to hold up when thinly sliced onto pizzas.
  • Sweet Treats – This cherry tomato is so perfect that we’ve decided we can’t survive a summer without it. Everyone who tastes one of these little treasures exclaims aloud with delight.

My experiments for this year are:

  • Super Marzano – We loved the flavor of this roma-type variety’s ancestor, San Marzano, but it didn’t hold up against our southern Piedmont heat and diseases. This newer hybrid comes with much more disease resistance, and it’s supposed to be high in pectin, which means it will thicken pastes and sauces quickly and flavorfully. I’ll let you know.
  • Indigo Rose – The picture in the catalog was so surprising that I read its description, which completely hooked me. It looks gorgeous – almost purple – and it supposedly is very high in anthocyanins, which are powerful anti-oxidants. Their good flavor is supposed to have “plummy overtones.” Color me intrigued.

I ordered all my tomato seeds except Indigo Rose from Totally Tomatoes. I’ve been ordering from these tomato/pepper specialists for many years, and I’ve never been disappointed. The rest of my vegetable and herb seeds come from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

After discussing the pros and cons of potential bean candidates, Wonder Spouse and I decided to stick with the bean varieties we grew last year: Jade bush beans and Fortex pole beans.  Both were fantastically productive and delicious. We’re sticking with Red Ace beets; we know they grow well in our garden, and they always taste wonderfully sweet.

In addition to Nelson carrots, we’re going to try Laguna carrots, which are supposedly very heat-resistant. The idea of keeping carrots productive even midway through our summer swelters was too tempting to resist.

I went a little nuts on the lettuces. I always do. Suffice it to say that I focused on heat-resistant varieties, made sure to get some colorful red ones, and also threw in a mesclun mix for pizzazz.

I’m trying Sugar Sprint snap peas. They are theoretically stringless, unlike the Sugar Anns I’ve been growing. And I went with heat-resistant spinach varieties.

On the summer squash front, I’m growing Raven zucchini again; we’ve been pleased with their vigor. And we’re going to try Spineless Perfection. If this variety really lacks spines, I will indeed be delighted – assuming they produce well and taste good too. We’re trying a patty pan type called YStar that intrigued Wonder Spouse.

But we’re not doing winter squash again. We’ve decided we just don’t eat enough of them to justify the garden space needed to grow them. And we’re lucky enough to live in an area blessed with many small farmers and markets that offer tasty, locally grown winter squashes in abundance when we do have a craving.

We’re going to try Bright Lights swiss chard, and in addition to my culinary basil standards (Nufar and Aroma2), I’m going to grow Amethyst Improved, which is supposed to be deeply and reliably purple while tasting fabulous.

I don’t usually order annual flower seeds beyond Queen Sophia marigolds, which I consider essential to the vegetable garden. But this year, as a benefit of my membership in the Garden Writers Association, Renee’s Garden sent me a media kit that offers me free seeds if I’ll write about my results. Free seeds – say no more! I’ve ordered ten flower varieties, many of them heirlooms, which I’ve found are usually better at attracting pollinators than the fancy newer hybrids. I’ll let you know how they do as the season progresses.

As usual, I’ve ordered quite an ambitious number of seeds. As always, if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, I’m going to have a sad excuse for a garden. My county is in moderate drought right now. Every rain event promised seems to peter out just before it gets to my house. But my seed orders are in. I am placing my garden in the hands of the weather gods.

P.S. If you know any good rain dances, drop me a line…

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Marigolds and Miscellany

Queen Sophia Marigold

NOTE: If you arrived here via a link from a site run by The Garden Seeds, know that I had never heard of them until they linked to this article without my permission. Because they sell seeds, the link to my site makes it appear as if I’m endorsing them as a seed source. I AM NOT ENDORSING THEM. I DON’T KNOW THEM. But, apparently, I can’t stop them from misappropriating my words (they include a huge quote). Sometimes the Blogosphere shows its seedy underbelly, and today is one of those days for me.

We now return you to our regular blog entry:

I’ve been meaning to write about marigolds all growing season. Marigold varieties derive from two main species: Tagetes patula is the so-called French marigold species. These are the smaller, very spicily fragrant flowers often used as edging plants in borders. The so-called African marigolds are Tagetes erecta. These marigolds grow much taller, aren’t nearly as fragrant, and look more like chrysanthemums than marigolds to my eye. I put “so-called” in front of both common names, because these flowers didn’t originate in either France or Africa. Their natal origin is Central America, where they were discovered by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century.

I love French marigolds, and I’m especially a fan of the “Queen Sophia” variety. I think the complex mix of deep orange and gold epitomizes all that a marigold should be. Combine that with non-stop blooms from spring to hard frost, and you’ve got yourself a winning marigold.

In this gardener’s opinion, every vegetable garden should be full of French marigolds. The spicy fragrance apparently extends to emanations from the roots. Horticulturalists have noted that when Tagetes is grown in beds first, then tilled under, tomatoes planted in the same beds have fewer infestations of root-knot nematodes.  Marigolds repel the bad guys and attract the good guys.

I always plant marigolds at the bases of my tomato plants. They may repel nasty soil inhabitants, and they definitely bring in pollinators. This time of year, my Queen Sophia flowers are usually occupied by slumbering carpenter bees every cool morning. They are nearing the end of their life cycles, and I imagine they find it harder to find reasons to leave their fragrant orange-gold beds as autumn creeps close.

I start my marigold seeds in my greenhouse, because I’ve found that small seedlings are a favorite food of slugs in my garden in early spring. As soon as my plants have some heft to them, the slugs don’t seem to bother them.  My propagation chamber with the heating mat is usually full in spring, but the marigolds don’t require bottom heat to germinate. I just pop the seeds into moistened potting soil, set them on the greenhouse bench, and in just a few days, the seedlings appear.

They go out into the garden when I set out the tomatoes — usually late April. By September, the petite plants are petite no longer, instead morphing into bushes with woody stems that tend to bend with the weight of the foliage and flowers. Here’s a typical example; I took this photo yesterday:

A bushy Marigold “Queen Sophia”

To encourage continuous blooming, snap off the spent flowers; you’ll release the spicy fragrance into the air — instant aroma therapy! I usually toss the spent flowers on the dirt beside the plant. Right now, I’ve got quite a few new marigold seedlings popping up near the mother plants. The first freeze will kill them.

While the marigolds continue merrily along, the vegetables are most definitely winding down. But I’m still picking produce every other day. Today’s haul: 63 Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes (These plants have been nothing short of awesome this year.), 5 Viva Italia tomatoes (No more reliable paste tomato exists.), 2 Purple Russians (The surprise of the season — an heirloom that didn’t succumb to the summer.), 3 small slicers (These have fallen victim to greedy squirrels; I’m not finding many ripe ones that aren’t half-eaten.), 1 Carmen Italian pepper (Still many more coming along.), 2 Apple peppers (Still a few of these coming too.), a handful of Fortex pole beans (These are finally giving up the ghost after a spectacular season).

And the biggest surprise of September: another Diva cucumber. Usually my cucumbers expire by late July. To still be harvesting tasty green cucumber beauties is astonishing to this gardener.  I suspect that the heat and drought may have reduced the number of fungal diseases that usually kill my cukes. I was able to give them just enough water to keep them going through the worst of the heat wave. And now that the weather is cooling, they have responded with a new flush of flowers and fruits. Diva, my friends — it’s the cuke you want for your Piedmont home garden, I am here to testify!

I’ve spent the last several days yanking out the weedy interlopers from my dormant veggie beds. Two days ago, I sowed crimson clover, which I always start this time of year. This is a so-called “green manure,” which means it adds nutrients to the soil when this annual dies back in the spring. It also serves to protect my soil through the winter, encouraging the activity of earthworms, preventing crusting of the top layer of the soil, and increasing overall soil health. I wouldn’t think of growing a veggie garden without this winter cover crop. I watered it in, and today I noticed that little roots are already poking out of the swelling seeds. Predicted rains over the next few days should encourage those roots to burrow deeply, producing enthusiastic seedlings to crowd out weeds and nurture my beds through the winter.

I’ll close this miscellaneous post with a quick reminder to those gardeners lucky enough to be gardening within driving distance of Chapel Hill, NC: Don’t forget the NC Botanical Garden’s fall plant sale this weekend. You won’t find a better selection of native plants from woodies to wildflowers. And the money goes to keep this special place going. Ya’ll come out and buy some green goodies!

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