Irene Virag's Garden Party

I'm Irene Virag -- a writer, a gardener, a cancer survivor. I think ideas are like plants. They need nurturing to grow. And gardeners share both. So welcome to my blog. It’s all about what’s happening in my garden and beyond.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Beautiful Vegetables

I wrote in today's column about some of the tempting vegetable seeds in the catalogs that are still arriving in the mail. But there's never enough space in a newspaper, especially for photos. So I thought I'd share some pictures that might continue to whet your appetite -- and mine.

Like this beauty shot of Thompson & Morgan's new Mini Belle peppers:
I'd love to see this collection of cauliflower in my garden, also from Thompson & Morgan: I'm juicing every morning now -- thanks to my nutrition-conscious stepson who gave his father and me a cutting-edge juicer for Christmas. Suddenly I can't get enough organic carrots. I'm sure I'll be planting plenty of these purple-skinned Dragon carrots from Gardens Alive! And beets are even better in the juicer. Of course, I still love them roasted and boiled. Touchstone Gold beets are one of the new varieties being showcased by the National Garden Bureau this year:
Of course, my salad bowl won't go empty. Lettuce still reigns in my garden. I like the idea of this perfect-for-one Mini Green iceberg from Thompson & Morgan:But Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed Lettuce from Territorial Seed wins the award for best name. I'll have to let you know how it tastes.Although Flashy Trout's Back isn't bad-looking either: And I've never understood why more people don't get excited about radishes. Maybe Red Meat from Territorial Seeds will change the lowly radish's image: Let me know what's catching your eye. If you haven't gotten your favorite catalog yet, visit the Mailorder Gardening Association Web site, where you'll find links to many seed companies. And check back here for my upcoming report on the tomatoes that have me drooling.

(photos courtesy of Thompson & Morgan, Gardens Alive!, National Garden Bureau, Territorial Seed)

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Keep Kalanchoe Kicking; Chill out with Cyclamen

Finally, the holidays are over. I took down the tree. I packed away the nutcrackers. I ate the last of the panatone and the Christmas cookies.

And I've already managed to break at least three of my New Year's resolutions -- I haven't been to the gym yet, I haven't weeded out my bulging files and okay, you can tell by the date on this posting that I haven't been blogging 24/7.

But there's always tomorrow. Besides, these are personal resolutions, not garden ones. The garden resolutions are easier to keep because they're actually fun -- like buy more plants, order more bulbs. Things like that. Hey, I'm even working on my vegetable seed order -- I'll be telling you what's been tempting me in an upcoming column.

The resolution I'm talking about today is keeping my kalanchoes and cyclamens alive. I've given up on poinsettias -- to me they're the impatiens of the holiday season. Does anyone really bother to keep them going until they turn red next Christmas? I know it's possible; I've done it. I tell people how to do it. But my question is, why? To me, it's like starting impatiens from seeds. What's the point?

But kalanchoes and cyclamens, well, these I can understand. I wrote a column recently rhapsodizing about the pure white kalanchoes and cyclamens that graced my home during the holiday season. I thought I'd tell you how I'm keeping them happy.

Treating Kalanchoe Right
Kalanchoes like bright sunlight, well-drained soil and daytime temperatures in the 70s – although they won’t complain if you turn the thermostat down to 55 at night. I won't either. I like sleeping in a cool room, too. Water with tepid water but let plants partially dry out before watering again. Hey, there's a lesson here -- don't eat if you're not hungry. And like cyclamens, kalanchoes shouldn’t soak – something to remember if your plant is showing off in a decorative pot that doesn’t have a drainage hole. You don’t have to fertilize kalanchoes now but nourish with an all-purpose houseplant food monthly starting in late spring. Let them summer outdoors and bring them in when night temperatures dip to 40 degrees. Then keep them in the dark for 14 hours every night for two weeks, giving them moderate daytime light. They should bloom about six weeks later.

Staying Cool with Cyclamen
Cyclamens grow from a flat corm that’s part of their root system and actually pokes out of the soil. This adds to their charm as well as their challenge. Never water the corm directly. Instead, place the plant in a saucer of water for five minutes. The soil should be dry so the plant quickly absorbs moisture. Don’t let it sit in water, otherwise it will rot. Cyclamens like night temperatures of 50 degrees; daytime temperatures between 60 and 65 keep them blooming longer. Pull gently on the stem to remove both the faded flower and the stem. Bright light for at least three hours keeps your cyclamen happy, so does a drink of houseplant fertilizer at half strength once a month in winter and every other week in spring and fall. Let the leaves die back naturally in summer, but don’t let the corm dry out. When new sprouts appear in fall, give the plant more water.

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