Featured This Month:

Amaryllis

By Marilyn Wiley, MG
Photos by Diane Wetzel, MG        

Amaryllis: Red Lion

Amaryllis: Red Lion

Amaryllis is one of the favorite Christmas flowers, all too often discarded after blooming, only to purchase another bulb during the next holiday season. This shouldn’t be the case because amaryllis is a perennial bulb. I remember them blooming around a cottage in Costa Rica, content in that surrounding. Amaryllis originated in tropical South America and has the botanical name Hippeastrum. They come in many colors, including various shades of red, white, pink, salmon and orange as well as striped and multicolored varieties. Some of the newer cybister varieties have thinner petals and are exotic looking, with chartreuse mid-veins, or throats.

Before planting, soak the base and roots in lukewarm water for a few hours. Do not get the bulb wet. If you are unable to plant the bulb immediately after receiving it, store it at a cool temperature, between 40º-50º F. Choose a sturdy clay pot that leaves 1 or 2 inches between the pot and the bulb. For example, if your bulb is 3 ½ inches in diameter, choose a standard size pot of 6 inches. Use a clay pot because the stems of the plant will be large and heavy and will tip over a plastic pot. Do not use a pot that is sharply tapered or very shallow because you want room for root growth.  A recommended potting mix is one part regular potting mix, one part peat humus and one part perlite or vermiculite. If you want additional drainage, add one part sand. Mix some slow-release fertilize such as Osmocote 14-14-14 into the potting mix using the directions on the Osmocote. You probably will want the additional drainage because amaryllis do not like to remain wet.

Amaryllis:  Dancing Queen

Amaryllis:  Dancing Queen

Now for the planting: trim any dead roots and remove any dead foliage from the bulb. Place a small piece of screen over the drainage hole in the pot and put ½ to 1 inch of gravel in the pot for drainage. Fill the pot with the potting mix to the halfway mark so that the bulb’s neck will end up above the rim of the pot. There should be at least an inch from the top of the soil to the rim of the pot. Fan the roots out evenly and press the soil down so there are no air pockets around the roots.

Cover the roots with soil and fill until the bulb is half to two-thirds covered with soil. Water with lukewarm water that has been standing a day or so to allow the chlorine to dissipate. Be sure the soil is damp and squish the bulb around to remove any air pockets. Remove any water that may be in the saucer and place in a warm sunny location of 68º-70º F. Do not water again until the soil is relatively dry or until foliage appears. Once the bulb has sprouted you may water more often, but remember that more plants are killed by too much water than by too little water. As the stalks appear, rotate, because the stalks will bend toward the light. You may have to stake the plant to keep it from tipping over. Bulbs will flower in 7-10 weeks. If you want continuous bloom, plant bulbs at intervals of two weeks. When it blooms, you can place it in a cooler, darker place to preserve the life of the flowers. Clip flowers as soon as they start to wither to preserve the energy of the bulb. Some bulbs put out two stages of bloom. A recent bulb of mine produced five large flowers initially and several weeks later, six more flowers. After the last flower has faded, cut the flower stalk near the top of the bulb.

Amaryllis in center of mixed pot

Amaryllis in center of mixed pot

After blooming, fertilize with water-soluble plant fertilizer at half strength every time you water. When the danger of frost has passed, put the pot outside in a sunny location. Amaryllis add interest to container plantings during the summer months and can easily be planted in the center of a container planting. They will grow leaves to provide energy for the bulb for next winter’s bloom. Keep watering and feeding your bulbs until August; start withholding watering until September. In September, bring the pots in and store them for two months in a cold dark location. Do not store in the refrigerator if the refrigerator contains apples because the apples will sterilize your bulbs. Cut the foliage only after it has yellowed, wilted and died back. Store a minimum of six weeks. Check the bulb weekly and shift the bulb to a warmer spot when you see the tip of the flower stalk. In November, replace the top inch with new soil and bring back into the light and warmth and water again to start the cycle for another year. Do not add too much fertilizer; if in doubt, use less. If you purchase bulbs already planted in containers, discard the potting medium and substitute the above mix. You will also probably have to choose a better pot. Only buy the planted containers if they are cheaper than the unplanted bulbs.

Amaryllis in center

Amaryllis in center

Enjoy your amaryllis and keep experimenting. Four of the five bulbs I planted two years ago rebloomed after spending the summer as focal points in containers.

Unfortunately, this summer, four inches of hail in late July destroyed the leaves and only one recovered to develop new leaves. The others are stored in the cool basement waiting for February when I will bring them out and replant and hopefully they will re-bloom. 

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Growing Giant Competitive Pumpkins

Submitted by Ron Milkay, Master Gardener

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Ken Desrosiers has a passion for growing big pumpkins and recently agreed to an interview to talk about his interesting hobby.  His pumpkins are grown on a 2000 sq. foot portion of his homestead in Broad Brook CT.

What is competitive pumpkin growing all about and how did you get interested in it?

In competitive giant pumpkin growing it is all about weight. The heaviest pumpkin wins regardless of physical size, color or shape. Competitive growers commonly choose seeds that tend to grow pumpkins with thick walls. Most pollinations are controlled, so the genetics get better and better each year.

Would you walk me through the process of growing a competitive pumpkin?

Growing giant pumpkins requires a good sized garden and full sun. You can get seeds from other growers on BigPumpkins.com for free. I will talk more about my website a little later. I start my seeds indoors around April 20th. I put them outside in early May in small greenhouses (6’x4’x3’) to protect them from frost. I even put small electric heaters in my greenhouses. When you put the seedling in the soil, put the first true leaf opposite of where you want the main vine to run. Managing the vines is a very important part of growing a giant pumpkin. By early June the plants will outgrow the greenhouses. At this time I put up my wind breaks to protect my young plants from wind.  I bury my main vine and each secondary vine (vines growing off the main vine) at the leaf nodes. This helps to build a bigger root system which can take up more nutrients into the plant and pumpkin. All tertiary vines (vines growing off the secondary vines) are pruned off. I try and keep my secondary vines perpendicular to the main vine. The goal is to pollinate a pumpkin on the main vine as this will yield the biggest pumpkin. All pumpkins on secondary vines are removed. To get the biggest possible pumpkin, grow only one fruit per plant. I try and get my pollinations done between June 20th and July 10th. Once a pumpkin is set you will want to position it at a right angle to the main vine and pull it backwards slightly so the pumpkin is on the outside of the curved vine. This will make some room for the pumpkins “shoulders” to grow. As the pumpkin grows continue to position it until you can no longer lift it. You will have to cut some of the tap roots growing along the main vine so that the vine can lift up as the pumpkin grows. If you don’t do this the pumpkin will snap itself right off the vine during rapid growth. It is common to see growth rates of 25 to 40 pounds per day at peak. I have heard of some growers getting up to 60 pounds in 24 hours. Throughout the growing season you will need to spray your plants once every 7 to 10 days for insects and disease prevention. The most common pests are cucumber beetles, squash vine borers, squash bugs and aphids. Diseases that can end your season include fursarium, yellow vine disease, blossom end rot and mosaic virus.

How and where are competitive pumpkins judged and what prizes are awarded?

The rules for competitive giant pumpkin growing are pretty much standard. The pumpkin must be solid and free from any holes into the cavity. For the safety of the weigh-off personnel all fungicides must be removed from the pumpkin before transporting to the weigh-off. Most weigh-offs will have an inspection process before the weighing begins.

There are giant pumpkin weigh-offs all over the world in which giant pumpkin growers compete for ribbons, plaques and cash prizes. The prize money can vary greatly from one weigh-off to the next. Expect the competition to be a lot tougher at the weigh-offs with the high prize money! To give you an idea, winning the Topsfield Fair will get you $3000 plus a $2500 bonus if your pumpkin is the largest in all of New England. There is an international organization for giant pumpkin growing called the GPC (Great Pumpkin Commonwealth). The GPC has over 80 different weigh-off sites  around the world. Entering your pumpkin at one of these sites will allow you to compete internationally for additional prize money. In New England, our current GPC sites are: the Topsfield Fair in MA, the Durham Fair and the Woodstock Fair in CT, Ridgefield CT, the Frerichs Farm weigh-off in RI, Deerfield NH, Colchester VT and two weigh-offs in Maine.

When was the one ton competitive pumpkin milestone reached?

2011 1st Place Connecticut Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off (1487.5 lbs.)

2011 1st Place Connecticut Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off (1487.5 lbs.)

In October of 2012, Ron Wallace from Greene, RI won the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts with the first pumpkin weighing over a ton at 2009 pounds. This was the second time Ron Wallace grew a world record pumpkin. He held the record in 2006 and was the first person over 1500 pounds with his 1502. In 2013 Ron’s record was broken by Tim Mathison of Napa, CA with the current world record weighing 2032 pounds. There was another pumpkin weighing over a ton grown in 2013 in Switzerland by Beni Meier but his 2328 had a hole and therefore was not official.

We are mid-way through the 2014 growing season here in North America and the rumor is Ron Wallace and some other Rhode Island growers are doing very well. The world record is likely to be broken again this year!

Tell me about your web site.

I started BigPumpkins.com back in 1999 as I was learning how to develop software for the Internet. Today it is the biggest and most popular website on the Internet for the hobby of giant pumpkin growing. You can view the grower diaries of fair-winning giant pumpkin growers and see how and what they do throughout the growing season. You can ask questions and get answers from experienced growers in your area. You can make friends with other giant growers from all over the world. All of the results from every GPC weigh-off site are aggregated on the website and you can see where your pumpkin sits in the world-wide standings. Maybe you too will have your own giant pumpkin grower’s diary on BigPumpkins.com next year!
Editor's Note:  At the 41st Annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off, John Hawkey had a pumpkin that weighed in at 2,058 pounds.

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Preserving our Garden's Bounty

Contributed by Kerry Lake, MG
'Tis the Season, that special time to preserve our garden’s bounty for enjoyment long after summer is gone. Preserving is about enhancing your garden’s bounty; bringing together more than one ingredient from your garden; using the peppers and onions and garlic and apples to make spiced apple chutney. This is taking apples to a whole new level, beyond just eating an apple out of your hand.

In a way, preserving our garden’s produce is not just providing for your future self, but also respecting your whole self. The self that tended the garden and is now bringing that produce beyond just today. I feel so alive after finishing a batch of pickles, or plum butter; I just can’t explain the thrill of filling up a larder for winter consumption. We have already been sharing our preserved bounty with neighbors and friends, and so far, we have gotten rave reviews!

There are so many ways to preserve our garden’s produce. Let me count the ways.

The simplest is Cold Storage. Examples would be hanging your onions and garlic, or storing carrots in a bucket of dry sand. Cold storage means a cold (not freezing) and dry space. My childhood home had a ‘root cellar’, a room off the rest of the basement that was certainly not heated, but used to store mostly root vegetables: carrots, potatoes, beets.

Drying. The simplest example would be of herbs; oregano, thyme, and winter savory can all be dried then the leaves can go into small jars or little bags. Don’t forget the lavender; I hope you have been harvesting it and making sachets for your closets and drawers. Here’s a great little DIY .

Freezing. Simple, easy, and great to enjoy in the dead of winter. Some vegetables need to be blanched before freezing (place in boiling water for 2 to 5 minutes, drain and plunge into ice water, drain again, pat dry, and place in freezer bags); fruits (berries) do not need to be blanched.

Water Bath. This is true canning. The vegetable or fruit is cooked. The jars and lids are sterilized. You can do the vegetables plain or create something fantastic. There is nothing like opening a jar of tomatoes in January and the aroma is pure summer! Personally, pickles (especially from zucchini) and relishes are a favorite of mine. Pickling in a salt brine, or vinegar brings a new dimension to the cucumber, zucchini, beet, and turnip.

Let me also mention Quick Pickles. You still need to use the sterilized jars, but not the water bath. Keep all quick pickles in the refrigerator and eat within a few weeks of pickling. We have pickled turnip and beets with one fresh red chili pepper in each jar; this will bring on the heat in the middle of winter!

Preserving in Oil. This is an ancient method used in India and Pakistan. This year my daughter is preserving fresh peppers, hot and sweet, in oil. So far, really delicious. These can be used quickly or can last for a few months. Sterilize the jars and lids.

Preserving with Sugar. Ah yes, jellies and jams. Fruit is heated with sugar (lots) and lemon juice. Additional pectin is not always necessary. Jars and lids should be sterilized. Plums, peaches and apricots, raspberries, and blueberries will all make excellent jams and jellies.

You can also preserve food in Alcohol. Because the alcohol is already fermented, it preserves your food the longest. The longer the maceration in alcohol, the more tender the fruit.

Besides some old family recipes, I would recommend these books for use when preserving your garden’s bounty: The Joy of Cooking for the basics of canning and jamming; Jams, Conserves & Preserving for some new and different choices; Quick Pickles for everything you need to know about pickling without the water bath.

Hoping you enjoy your garden’s bounty as it comes out of the garden (or your favorite farm stand), and as you prepare it for later consumption, you can look forward to serving it to family and friends this winter.