New Flower Bed

The big news here this year is that I’ve stopped growing flowers for market.  It was fun, but a lot of work and a time drain for a fairly small amount of money.  The balance between work-and-time and fun-and-money was definitely tipped too far away from fun and money, so I quit.   Now I have time for other things, for example, a new flower bed  just for fun.  It will be a mixed bed with annuals and perennials this year.

Day 1:

I did the well-known garden hose layout to come up with what I thought was a fairly pleasing bed shape alongside the driveway.

Your basic kidney bean shape

Your basic kidney bean shape, sort of

Taking the sod off is the worst part of the job, unless you rent a power sod cutter.  I don’t exactly have one of those, but I do have an excellent John Deere tractor.  With an hour or so of very careful bucket work, I was able to get the sod off.

Beats doing it by hand

Beats doing it by hand

No more sod

No more sod

I spent quite a bit of time trying to lay the sod I took out over a bad patch in the yard where we had a lot of nasty grub damage this year.  The sod was not very uniform in thickness so I got sort of a hummocky job, but I think that I can level it out with rolling and top-dressing.  It’s too ugly to show here.

Day 2:

The topsoil around here is nothing special so a couple of trips to the county recycling station for $20 loads of compost gave me this:

Looking better

Looking better

Doesn't that look nice and rich?

Doesn’t that look nice and rich?

Ya gotta love a tractor-mounted rototiller for making short work of blending in the compost.

Churning the dirt

Churning the dirt

I wanted the  bed to be raised in the middle, so I added a few loader buckets of topsoil and mixed that in too.  The blended soil and compost looked kind of pale and pathetic at this point, so I  followed up with three buckets of year-old horse manure, courtesy of my good neighbor.  I may regret that, because I’m sure there are weed seeds galore in there.

Horse poo

Horse poo

A final tilling and some raking gave me what I hope is a good flower bed.

A done deal

A done deal

A little cleanup work, and I can start on the fun part.  Annie thinks this is the fun part.


Summer Is Rolling Now

We’re definitely into midsummer here in northern Michigan.  The garden is popping and I’ve been trucking flowers to the farmers’ market every Saturday since mid-June.  Today was a market day, so yesterday was a cutting day in the flower field here at Tom’s Gardens.  (I really do have two gardens.  The name isn’t just marketing hype.)  The zinnias were looking nice, finally getting some height, though I’d like even more.

Nice zinnias to cut.

The major things I cut were zinnias, snaps, dianthus Amazon, yarrow,  cosmos, statice, and bachelor buttons.  Altogether, four to five hundred stems.  That’s quite a few for me.

Part of my morning haul.

I usually spend the morning cutting and the afternoon making bouquets — sometimes into the evening if I have a lot.  This isn’t a super great shot, coming as it did from my phone, but this was my setup today at the market.

Market setup

I’m pretty happy with how sales have gone at the market, though I have two competitors that have been at it a lot longer than I have.  I think I’m holding my own, but every day is not a sell out day.  It’s still a good mixture of fun and work though.

The Day Before Market

After two weeks of selling mostly basil plants because that’s all I had, it’s nice to have enough flowers to actually need buckets to hold them.

The yellow lilies are Latvia, and I don’t know what the other ones are.


The daisies are Highland White Dream.

A favorite of mine is heliopsis, and it always comes through for me.  If it came in pink and blue I’d have half my field in it. There are also a few centaurea macrocephala sticking their fuzzy yellow heads out and exactly two pink snaps.

Heliopsis and friends

The lilies don’t look too shabby in a vase with a little bupleurem and baptisia foliage.

Latvia Lilies

All together, not what you would call a truckload of flowers, but worth the trip to the market, especially with some basil plants to help take up the slack.

Free Flowers, Eventually

I got some seeds of peach-leaved bellflower, Campanula persicifolia, a few years back in a seed swap and have been meaning to start them ever since.

My Goal: Peach-leaved Bellflowers

I may as well take a few pictures while I do it and document my success, or its lack, if it comes to that.

For a seed tray, I used a plastic restaurant take-out container, the kind with a clear cover that snaps on.  The clear cover lets in light, which is reportedly needed for campanula seeds to germinate.  It also keeps the seeds very moist, which is a good thing since they sit right on top of the planting mix to get the light they need.  Without the cover, they could easily dry out and then no plants for me.  Once most of the seeds have germinated, the lid comes off immediately.  Seeds may love to be constantly soaked, but wet plants are known to be an invitation to a fungus party.

The seeds and tray went under fluorescent lights in my basement, where they stayed between 70 and 75 degrees F.  The seeds germinated surprisingly well, for being five years old, to the point that I had to thin the herd quite a bit, taking out at least half of them.

Today, 18 days after planting, it was time to prick them out of their seed tray, as British gardeners say, and put them into individual cells.  (American gardeners seem to avoid that particular phraseology.)  I had about forty seedlings, so I used a 48 cell tray, also known as a 1204.

Separating the Seedlings

To get the seedlings loose, I used a big pair of tweezers to stick into the soil and lift a small group of plants.  I could then just use my fingers to pull them apart into individual plants and stick the little guys into their new homes.

Finger pokes made the holes in the soil.

To bed, little guy.

A trickle of water in each cell helped settle the new soil around the roots, and back under the lights they went to recover and, with any luck at all, to grow up.  I’ll post back here from time to time with a photo and news from the Campanula family.  Pretty exciting stuff.

Update Photo:

Looking pretty good — 6/29/2012


When these got bigger, I gave some to my sister, who called back in a couple of days to tell me that the plants were primroses, not campanula. Someone in the seed swap got a little confused, I guess, but they’re still free flowers — just not what I needed or wanted. I stuck them in a little corner garden by my barn and we’ll enjoy them next spring.

Drip Tubing Going In

The reels of drip tape came out of the barn today as I started the yearly job of hooking it all up.  If there is anything handier around the garden than a tractor with a loader, I have yet to meet it.  Just raise the bucket up to the barn loft, roll a couple of reels of drip tape in, and drive it out to the field.  No humping the reels down the ladder or wheelbarrowing them out for me.  No sirree.  Let Johnny Deere do the heavy lifting.

My friend

I changed the length of my flower beds this year for more uniformity and that meant none of my old drip tapes were the right lengths.  I’m slow anyway, but the cutting and joining needed to get the 100 foot lengths I wanted slowed me down even more, and it took a good chunk of the day to get done what you see below.

Boring pic, I guess, but it sure looks sweet to me.

Notice the nice pile of rocks — my most reliable crop.

It would have been nice to just buy a mile of new tape and throw away the old stuff, but who has that kind of money?  Besides, it doesn’t seem too earth-friendly.  We gardeners are nothing if not earth-friendly, even though the earth seems not always friendly to us.

Does anyone recognize this rascal?


It’s growing like a weed, so I’m fairly sure it is one, but there is actually a group of three of them — just as though I planted them.  Of course, I have no memory at all of planting anything there.  I am letting them get bigger, hoping flowers will pop out eventually so I can ID them, but if they get much bigger I may have to use heavy equipment to uproot them.  So … pull them now, while I’m still young, or wait and see?

Update: June 13

I know that my millions of followers have been on tenterhooks since I posted this, agonizing with me while I tried to decide what to do, so here’s the scoop.  I found out this morning that the plants are Rudbeckia triloba.

Rudbeckia triloba

Too bad I pulled them yesterday.  Yep, I pulled perfectly good plants that I had started from seed last year and would love to have seen blooming.  That’s what a lousy memory will do for you.  Oh, well, water over the dam, spilled milk, and all that.  Next time I’ll put a label by them, if I remember.

Got Basil?

The basil seeds that I put in in late April have reached a nice size, and just in time — next Saturday is our first farmers’ market of the season.


I do mostly cut flowers, but not many are ready at this time in northern Michigan, so it’s nice to have something to bring in a buck or two in June.  Maybe you noticed that it is a little warmish in the greenhouse right now.  I should have built in better ventilation.