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Hardy annuals

The sun is shining, flowers are growing dum di di dum dum dum. Weeds are appearing everywhere but I don’t care - they’re feeding the wildlife – or so I keep telling myself so I don’t lose the plot when I’m looking at their scale and the insane amount of new growth they can put on in the blink of an eye. Why can’t my top of the range, fancy pants, high-price commanding Dahlias do the same? Probably because if they could they would no longer be top of the range, fancy pants, high-price commanding Dahlias….‘sigh’.

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After weeks of glorious weather we woke up to...Snow!  So the only thing to do to get over worrying about snoe-damage was to have a snowball fight :-)  Over on the right are a tray of Helichrysum seelings I left out to harden off...and forgot to return to the greenhouse - much to my surprise they survived and are now happily growing in the field!!

I have seeds and seedling EVERYWHERE. The light-box (with super snug bottom heat) is crammed with trays, the greenhouse heated bench is packed with the same and the entire floor of both greenhouses are full of plug trays with my ever-fattening little seedings coming along nicely. I also have crates with planted up dahlia tubers snug in the greenhouse - I’m going to take as many cuttings from them before I plant them out into the field in late May, nothing like making free Dahlia plants to make the heart sing. Dum di di dum…

I’m feeling more organised than ever before. I have rows of cold-hardy annuals planted up on the farm, more coming along in the greenhouse and loads of other annuals starting out. I’m always trying to refine my seed list and at the same time trial newbies that I hope will work (usually I get notions - some good, some not so good after seeing pictures in books or on social media) and there’s always so many that I still haven’t gotten around to trying at all because even though I go over my seed budget every time I go online ‘to get a few bits’ I still have to be realistic about what time and space I have to devout to completely new crops. Someday I WILL walk through my very own rows of Lizianthus blooms – just not yet…

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Planting up rows of hardy annuals on the farm.  I'm snuggling them under some frost cover to keep them from any really cold nights and also the hard winds that blow around up here.

The hardy annuals that I’m growing are (in very organised alphabetical order 😉)

Agrostemma githago (corncockle), Ammi majus (Graceland, Snowflake, Queen of Africa), Ammi visnaga ‘Green Mist’, Daucus carota ‘Dara’, Antirrhinum (snapdragons) sp. Including ‘

Rocket’ series, ‘Madame Butterfly’ series, ‘Liberty’ series and I’m trialling the ‘Potomac’ series, which I’ve never grown before. Dill, Bpurleum, Calendula, Campanula, Consolida (larkspur), Delphinium, Digitalis ‘Camelot’ (annual foxglove), Godetia ‘Grace’ series, Helichrysum (including a new-to-me variety ‘Rose Beauty’), Molucella laevis (Bells of Ireland), Nigella, Orlaya grandiflora, Rudbeckia ‘Marmalade’ and a newbie I’m trying ‘Prairie Sun’, Scabiosa autropurpurea (plus the ‘Fama’ series that I’m trialling, but seed was very expensive so unless flowers are out of this world they won’t be invited back next year!), Senecio cineraria (Dusty Miller) – can’t get enough of this - stunning grey foliage, fantastic for wedding work – it’s prone to mildew so I like to sow as many successions as I can, Tanacetum - feverfew (double and single).

There’s something exciting about growing hardy annuals, I feel a bit like I’m ‘cheating’ nature and getting to sow flowers when instinct would be to wait until the ground warms up and all threat of frost has passed. It really feels so rewarding to get plugs in the ground in March (If there is a hard frost due I will put up the frost cover) knowing that I will have armfuls of early summer blooms well ahead of schedule – well that’s ‘le plan’ anyways, now let’s see if I can actually pull it off (successfully)….!

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I'm trying out a new crop suppot netting here on the farm that I bought from Quickcrop.  It is made completely from jute and will be fully compostable at the end of it's life.  I'm hoping to get a couple of uses from each piece...I'll let you know how I'm getting on with it.

And through all the sowing, planting, weeding and wondering what on earth I’m doing our family life continues. Senan turned four. I had to say it to myself so many times before it actually sunk in. I know every parent says it – but I can’t believe how quickly my baby boys are growing up. It is a real joy to see their little personalities come out and watching their love of flowers and the outdoors growing is utterly heart-warming, but they are still growing up into independent little men, who don’t need mum quite as much as they used too…

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My boy...We took Senan to the aquarium in Bray for his birthday - he especially loved the little starfish and clown fish.

Next post I’ll let you know how my tough little baby plants are doing and go through the inspiring list of summer flowers I’m planning on growing and harvesting.

Have a wonderful, flowery day and thank you for taking a peep inside my weird and wonderful flower farmer’s life x

Sowing seeds and very cool flowers.

My babies are growing and my babies are growing.

Harry has shot up (which means forking out for new school pants) and is now taking the bus to school. You would think I’d be thrilled with the reduction in school run time – I know did. But as the bus drove off with him happily tucked inside the tears flowed. My baby boy is growing up and needs me for one less thing :-(  Little Senan has been stretching also and is growing into a wonderful little helper (well, sometimes anyway).  Will the lighter winter workload I'm able to spend a lot more time with them both, taking them on a Sunday walk every weekend.  Went to Heywood Gardens in Laois recently, was so lovely - can't wait to return and see it in full bloom.

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Harry, on a recent trip to Heywood Gardens.

I have begun my 2017 seed sowing and for the first time used seeds I collected myself from my own flowers. So am thrilled to say these babies are growing! There is always immense satisfaction when seeds strike, but it is definitely more intense when the seeds are your own. Here’s to saving money and perhaps down the line creating a brand-new variety that will earn me millions!! (yeah..)

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Senan (who refused to go to pre school on this day) helping me organising my seeds for the start of sowing.

Saving my own seed can be tremendously time consuming. Gathering them is the easy bit – but cleaning them can be long, painfully slow work (sunflowers a cinch, cornflowers mind-numbing). I’d love to watch them being mechanically cleaned in a seed factory as I can’t imagine how a machine can separate seeds the size of a speck of dust from its disintegrated outer shell…. But when it comes to buying seed for the upcoming year (spending money in January is rather painful) and watching your own baby seeds sprout and peep their little heads into the world for the first time, the hours spent cleaning them is all worth it :-)

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Germinated seed - happy days! These are grown using overhead lights and bottom heat.  When they are big enough to go ito plug trays they will be moved to heated bench in the greenhouse - I'm hoping there'll be enough light in there to keep them growing and ready for planting out under frost cover in March.

I’ve started my sowing extravaganza off this year with all ‘cool’ flowers. I purchased a copy of Cool Flowers (I highly recommend getting yourself a copy) by Lisa Mason Ziegler last autumn and devoured it several times - it was a real eye-opener. The techniques are so simple yet I had never contemplated them before – sowing seeds that will germinate in cool temperatures and when planted at the correct time will put down roots and go on to give me flowers much earlier in the season than ever before – magic!

cool flowers book

Cool flowers can be planted 6-8 weeks before the first or last frost is due. Ideally before the first is best (in Autumn) but as I wasn’t organised enough to do it then (surprise, surprise!), I’m doing it now. I’m going to be overly optimistic about the number of flowers I’ll produce but know that whatever knowledge I pick up along the way will be brought forward to increase production next time round. But it is still nice though to imagine having armfuls of annual flowers in June…….

Last Autumn I packed the mini tunnels with Ranunculus, Anemones and in Spring Icelandic poppies, all of which have settled in really well. The year before when I sowed Anemones I pre-soaked the tubers and put them into individual plugs before taking them to the farm when they had rooted. Unfortunately, a large number of them ended up rotting in their plug trays and never made it to the farm so this time around I did not do any pre-soaking. On the farm I planted hundreds straight into the ground and watered them once and here at the house where I do my propagating I put them straight into plug trays – again with no pre-soaking and just one watering of the soil. I’m delighted with the results. I have hundreds of seedlings emerging both from the ground and the plug trays – looks like I’ll have loads of lovely anemone flowers this year – yay! The trick is to avoid the temptation to pre-soak and after the initial watering to avoid further watering until you can see shoots emerging.

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Hundreds of Anemone De Caen seedlings - the ones on the right 'The Bride' are slowest andd last to arrive.

With the Ranunculus I had to lots to work with – the new corms I bought in and the ones I had dug and saved from the previous season. The ones I bought in I soaked for a couple of hours and put into plug trays. After months, there’s only a few of handfuls of seedlings – very disappointing as the corms appeared healthy. With the ones I saved I divided them, soaked them for a couple of hours and put them into plug trays. A couple of months later I had tonnes of Ranunculus plugs bursting out of their trays! So, if you’re wondering whether or not to save your corms – go for it!

With so much hope and expectation for the coming season - Let the flowery year begin again!!!

Orla x

Favourite summer blooms

The hard frost has come, much later than last year meaning I had my lovely blooms for much longer than expected. Crazy to think I was still taking orders and delivering flowers in mid-November!

I will miss each and every one of my flowers (except for the few that will not be invited back next year ;-)).

My harvest this year were more abundant, more consistent and best of all I had so many more varieties. This is largely due to trialling so many the first year and figuring out what works best as a cut flower on my little flower farm on top of a hill in Co. Kilkenny.

Some of my top favourites (and now staples) from this summer are:

Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule) -  Stunners, all of them. I haven’t met someone yet who hasn’t gone all soft and gooey-eyed over these beauties.

Ranunculus asiaticus - Such a versatile flower. Sold pretty much every stem of these that I grew. (Growing double next year!)

Feverfew - Tanacetum parthenium (single and double) - Fantastic filler, both in bouquets and wedding arrangements.

Nigella – Every variety of nigella is a unique bundle of joy J

Lupins (Russell hybrids)- Have to include these because I love everything about them. Their quirky shapes, stunning colours and the memories and smiles they bring to my customer’s faces.

Snapdragons (Antirrhinum) - I grew more varieties of this flower than any other, so glad I did! Excellent focal flowers, huge range of colours and very easy to grow.

Dahlias, esp. Café au Laits. Complete showstoppers.

Ammi majus/visnaga, Daucus carota Dara. All excellent fillers, so airy and cottage style, wouldn’t be without them.

Amaranthus caudatus (green and red) - their training stems were fantastic in both wedding work and bouquets.

Ammobium alatum - little tiny star like flowers that are fantastic fresh and dried.

Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’ – Annoying sticky stems (no one likes when it’s their turn to harvest these!) but their wonderful bright green flowers are a fantastic addition to bouquets.

Sunflowers (single and branching) - Because they make me smile. Everytime.

Helichrysum (king size formula) I grew mixed, white and salmon ones and they made a great addition to bouquets and I have hundreds of flowers dried for winter work.

Statice – Easy to grow, easy to harvest, great choice of colours, excellent vase life and dry beautifully. Enough said!

Mallow – Lavatera trimestris – beautiful flowers which everybody loves :)

I’m already looking forward to next year when I can grow bigger and better blooms, see a return of my old favourites, trial new varieties and most of all be surrounded by thousands of beautiful, happy, smiley flowers x

I bought Aldi compost and I won

 

It’s only the end of April and it’s crazy busy already. LOVE IT!

There’s something so exciting about the frenzy of seed sowing, bed preparations, harvesting, selling at the market, making and delivering flower orders and emailing brides…. I’m someone who always likes to be busy so I feel like I’m coming into my own now after the winter and with the longer days I’ve more energy and tonnes of optimistic enthusiasm for everything (wonder if I’ll still be this chirpy after another crazy month, doubt it, ha!)

I’ve most of the first sowings of seeds pricked out into plug trays and I’m well into my second sowings. I would have liked the first and second sowings to be closer together but with space on the heated bench and under the lights in limited supply everything must wait it’s turn. Nearly everything I want to sow has been sown apart from the real heat lovers and those that are being direct sown. I’ll wait another while to sow my sunflowers, zinnias, cobaea, mina….and by then there’ll be plenty of space on the heated bench where they’ll shoot up in no time. I’ll be able to give over most of the greenhouse to zinnias and sunflower propagation once the last frost date has passed and I can plant out all the plug trays taking up the whole thing right now.

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I had to transplant these tiny Amaranthus cadatus (red and green varieties) much earlier than I had planned due to damping off in their seed tray.  I'm thrilled to see they are doing really well.  Maybe I should have more faith in my little ones...

The stuffed greenhouse is looking fantastic (if I do say so myself ;-)). I go out every night with the torch and do a slug patrol with great success. Though I must admit it took me a while to realise there was a problem…. I had been wondering why the cosmos seedlings (sown in 96 cell plug trays, 1 seed per plug) were so slow to develop after germinating until I copped they had their heads gobbled off by sadistic slugs. I was fecking livid especially as they specifically targeted my double click snow puffs (what a mouthful) that I was beyond excited to grow after seeing Floret raving about them and anything she grows I wanna grow too! I’m also using a different compost mix than last year and the seedling are loving it. I’m using a mix of peat – free compost I bought in from Fruit Hill Farm in Cork and some cheapo organic peat - free stuff I bought in Aldi. I was really (pleasantly) surprised to see Aldi doing stocking peat – free compost as anyone will tell you I’m no fan of bog – stripping just to grow a few plants… Anyhow at €3 a bag I filled my trolley one day and decided to give it a go. It’s a lovely dark brown compost but with quite a lumpy texture. I reckon it’s too strong to use on its own for my little transplants so I’ve been mixing it 1:2 and 1:1 with the peat free seed compost from Fruit Hill and they love it. They are growing really well and all the plugs look so healthy. Win win!

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And the farm is looking good too!  Loads of flowers blooming and I spotted this wecome visitor last week :-)

And before I forget, what blooming right now (isn’t that what it’s all about really):

Last of the narcissus will be harvested this week, they had a funny start to their season with a blast of really mild weather tricking them early on followed by a really cold spell to mess them up so I don’t feel some of the varieties did as well as they should have…but overall did get a good harvest. Note to self: Grow more scented doubles next year…

Tulips, what absolute stunners! They are looking amazing right now especially the doubles Blue Diamond and the gorgeous Angeliques…Why oh why can’t their season be longer??

The wallflowers are coming into their own with some really beautiful colours, though they need to get a bit taller before they’re really ready to be harvested in great amounts.

Hyacinths have finished but the muscari are looking fantastic and with their stunning blue hues are always popular at the market…

Anemones and ranunculus are just coming into flower…..

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Anemone St. Brigid in full bloom. Stunning!!!!!

 

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And to finish...My absolute favourite picture of the year so far.  I finished work early last Sunday (as part of trying not to over do it this year and make more time for 'family time'.  I took Senan to the playground and Andy took Harry on his first fishing trip of the season - and he came home with this!! He really was absolutely thrilled with himself and I was just so proud of him.  It really is worth taking time out away from work, no matter how busy I am.

A new day

The days are getting longer, the temperatures (occasionally) warmer and new growth is to be seen. I love that moment when you realise Winter is over, Spring has arrived and new life and flowers are on their way!

Up at the farm the bulbs are starting to make an appearance. Daffodils and Hyacinths obviously being the first.   Joining them are tulips and muscari and the fleshy greens of alliums. I planted new varieties of bulbs this year so am eager to see how they turn out, the Leucojums in particular.

The Ranunculus that I planted in the mini tunnel are doing very well. The Anemones are not. I think I over soaked them before I planted them. I only soaked them for about two hours but it was still too much. An awful lot of the corms rotted before they ever had a chance to sprout. Next year I’m not going to soak them at all. I’ll just plant them up (in 96 cell plug trays) and give them a quick water then leave them. Hopefully that will give me better results. I absolutely hate when a crop fails as very often it’s a whole year before I can try again, but I just have to get over it and move on. Pronto. (Tho I’m still mourning the loss of my beautiful Icelandic poppies that were destroyed with the tunnel :-( )

I’ve been busy here in the nursery sowing seeds. Armed with a head full of knowledge gleamed from last year’s mistakes I’ve begun sowing seeds in earnest. Last year I literally sowed whatever came to hand. I didn’t fully work out the best strategy to make the most of the time I had until mid-May when everything would be planted out. I had Zinnias and Sunflowers ready to go in March for feck’s sake! It was a real pain trying to mind them, keeping them warm and fed as they out grew their plug trays. Didn’t I feel a bit silly. This year I ordered all my seeds around the one time from Higgledy Garden, Moles, Chiltern and Seedaholic. When they arrived I divided them up into three sections 1st, 2nd and 3rd stage sowings. I also have a spreadsheet I fill in of everything I sow and another sheet where I’ll put any varieties that I’ll be succession sowing so at a glance I’ll know when the first sowing was done and when the next is due.

In my first round box I have :

Borage, Dill, Antirrhinums, Calendula, Statices, Dusty Miller, Ammobium, Stocks, Campanulas, Ammi.

In my second round box I have:

Setaria, Isolepis, Gomphrenas, Celosias, Nicotianas, Amaranthus, Helichrysums, Rudbeckia, Ageratums, Scabiosas, Echinops, Cornflowers, Cosmos,

In my third round box I have : (some of these I’ll direct sow)

Sunflowers, Nigellas, Lagurus ovatus, Briza, Bupleurum, Orlaya, Zinnias, Bells of Ireland, Tithonia, Mina lobata, Cobaea scandens, Malope Vulcan.

It’s nice to feel so organised, hope I can keep it up as the season decends in to crazy, busy, flowery madness!

Happy sowing and seed watching everyone!

Orla

 

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Sowing Cosmos seeds one at a time into individual cells in  96 cell plug tray.  I dicided to do it this way (instead of a seed tray on the heated bench) as Cosmos don't need the bottom heat to germinate and they grow so fast it's easier and less stressful for them to go straight into a plug tray.  Harry loved to help me with this job, he covered over the seeds once I had planted then in their individual holes.

 

rsz blog photo sowing scabiosa

 

Sowing Scabiosa seeds in a seed tray.  To maximise the tray I'm using a divider so I can sow 2 varieties at once.  These then went onto the heated bench with a propagator lid as Scabiosa list snuggly bottom heat to get them going.

 

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Plenty more to go! (for some reason this picture REFUSED to go in the right way up, sorry!