January 31, 2014

Winter Blues Cure: Buzzy Bees

Nepeta 'Purple Haze'

Zinnia 'Benary's Giants Mix'

Zinnia 'Benary's Giants Mix'

Salvia 'Evolution'
Here's hoping our bee hive at the MSU Horticulture Gardens makes it through this brutal winter!

January 30, 2014

Winter Blues Cure: Echinacea

Winter really sucks. Let's look at Echinacea from this past summer!

Secret Glow

Cheyenne Spirit Mix

January 29, 2014

Winter Blues Cure: Zinnias

Yesterday's temperature (with the wind chill) was about -20F. Yikes! So let's look at some pretty summer photos of zinnias!
Dreamland Coral

Oklahoma Mix with Pennisetum 'Vertigo'

Benary's Giant Mix

Benary's Giant Mix

Benary's Giant Mix

Oklahoma Mix w/ Pennisetum 'Vertigo'

Unknown Zinnia with Gomphrena and Tuscan Kale

January 28, 2014

Finding Fabric for Upholstery Projects

I did a lot of research (a ton of research, actually) on upholstery fabric for the three pieces of living room furniture I'm redoing this winter. I've only ever sewn quilt blocks and a few random pieces of clothing, so upholstery fabric was pretty foreign to me.

I'm still not an expert, but here are a few tips I learned during my explorations of the upholstery fabric world:
  • Make sure you use upholstery-grade fabrics on furniture. Many "home-decor" fabrics are only intended for light-duty curtains or throw pillows, not furniture. If you take the time to reupholster something, you're going to want it to last a while.
  • Related to the above statement, find out how many double-rubs a fabric is rated for, if possible.You can sometimes get away with "medium-duty" fabrics, but "heavy-duty" fabrics generally have at least 15,000 double rubs.
  • Avoid fabrics that "crock". I had to look this term up after seeing a warning on a fabric at Joann Fabrics. Fabrics that crock have a tendency to release excess dye. That means they can stain clothing and pretty much anything that rubs up against them. They can even stain the plastic parts of a sewing machine. I can't imagine any reason someone would want to use this type of fabric, so I'm not even sure why it exists.
  • If ordering fabric online, order swatches if possible. Often, the colors on your computer screen, do not match the real-life colors. For example, I've ordered three swatches of what appeared to be coral fabric (see below) and all three turned out to be more orange in living color. Textured fabrics can also look very different. For example, I found three different textured dark gray fabrics online that I liked, so I ordered swatches. When they arrived, they all looked like cheap commercial carpeting
  • Keep an eye on how much of your fabric is in-stock. More than once, I ordered swatches of fabric, only to have that fabric sell-out BEFORE the swatches even arrived at my door. 
  • If your heart is set on a certain fabric, but it is out of stock, check with the company to see if it will be restocked. Companies can't always restock fabrics, but often they can. Ask them what date the fabric will be back in stock so you can keep an eye out for it.
  • If your budget is tight, check out websites like www.fabric.com and www.fabricguru.com. All of the fabrics I picked out from these sites were less than $15/yard (with many being about $8/yard). Most upholstery fabrics at chain fabric stores (like Joann Fabrics) are at least $30/yard. Designer fabrics can be well over $70/yard! As far as I can tell from all the swatches I ordered, the fabrics from these discount websites are perfectly good quality.
  • Take advantage of coupons and discount codes. You can pretty much always get 40 to 50% off coupons for Joann Fabric. Sometimes they also have 10 to 15% off your total order coupons and you can often get free shipping coupons. Similarly, websites like www.fabric.com occasionally have discount codes for free shipping.

January 27, 2014

Winter Upholstery Projects

Here are three pieces of furniture in my living room that I'm working on reupholstering this winter. The two chairs were both purchased at a thrift store. The couch is a hand-me-down from my parents.

The first chair is currently upholstered in worn sky blue velvet. I bought this chair almost 5 years ago, so I'm not quite sure, but I think I paid about $20 for it. It will be redone in a charcoal gray woven fabric. I will not be replacing the tacks, but will instead cover those areas with double-welting (more on that later). Since the chair-back is concave, I will have to replace the buttons/tufting, which I haven't done before.


The second thrift store chair was purchased in the last month or so for about $12. It was also done in blue velvet (must have been popular at some point). It has already been reupholstered (more posts to follow) in a white and gray floral fabric with olive-green cockatoos. 

I grew up with this antique couch in my parent's house. I'm not completely sure what color the fabric was originally (beige? champagne?), but these days "dirty dishwater" describes it best. It has metal claw feet (which I love), and hand-carving on the scroll arms and seat back. This will be redone in the same charcoal gray woven fabric as the first chair.

I'm also making new throw pillows to liven things up a bit. My boyfriend didn't seem too keen on some of the bright colors and wild prints I was thinking of using on the furniture, so I'll have to limit myself to some fun throw pillows. There are also plants to make an ottoman to match the couch. My plan is to purchase a coffee table from Ikea, add foam, cover with the same couch fabric, and do some tufting.

My plans may be overly ambitious, so hopefully we won't end up living with our furniture stripped down to the bones for months on end (e.g. our naked couch is currently covered in a bed sheet). The first chair turned out great, so I'm excited to start working on the other two pieces (if only my fabric wasn't back-ordered)!

January 24, 2014

Seed Purchases for 2014: Scaling Down the Insanity

I recently placed my main seed order for the 2014 garden. I'm really scaling things down this year due to my new job.  I expect to be pretty exhausted after gardening all day at work, so I don't want things to be quite as crazy at my home garden. In addition, I probably won't need to grow many of my own transplants considering we hold an amazing vegetable transplant sale at work each May.

My main order was with Pinetree Garden Seeds. I've been buying seeds from them for as long as I've been growing my own transplants. I like this company because they sell small quantities of seed (appropriate for the home gardener). Most of their seed packets are less than $2 each, which is cheaper than most seed you can find elsewhere. Here's what I ordered with some personal notes below each variety:

  • EARLY PURPLE SPROUTING BROCCOLI (35 days): This purple version of Raab is popular in the North. An alternative way to grow it is to plant in mid-summer, over-winter it and then get two months of delicious cuttings the following spring. High in vitamins with a tangy flavor.
    • I've been wanting to try this for a couple years now. We eat a lot of broccoli, but I've never had much success with regular heading broccoli.
  • PURPLE PEACOCK BROCCOLI (70 days): We are very excited to add this enchanting open pollinated variety to our broccoli selection this year. It is a cross between broccoli and two kales, absolutely beautiful either in the garden or edible landscape. The young leaves are tender, great for salads and the older colorful serrated leaves are used like kale. Loose heads of purple florets are not massive in size, but taste excellent with the plant then producing generous side shoots. This is definitely one vegetable you will want to show off to the visitors of your garden. Bred by Frank Morton. 
    • I tried growing broccoli rabe many years ago. It grew well, but it tasted horrible (I'm not a big fan of bitter greens). I always saw broccoli rabe being used on cooking shows (like Rachel Ray), so I expected it to be a little more universally likeable. This variety is supposed to be similar to rabe, yet different.
  • HONEY ROCK MELON (90 days heirloom): HEIRLOOM 1920 In 1936 Henry A Dreer Seed Co. stated: "This new musk melon is outstanding for the delicious sweetness and rich aroma of its tender, luscious, salmon colored flesh. The fruits are almost round. They are of medium size but have extremely thick flesh surrounding the small seed cavity. The skin of the heavy fruits is a grey-green color showing a rough netting". 
    • I knew the difference between a honey rock and regular cantaloupe at an embarrassingly young age. I finally had some success growing melons last summer (due to using black plastic mulch), so I'm going to give this childhood favorite a try.
  • ZUCCHETTA TROMBONCINO SUMMER SQUASH: HEIRLOOM This tasty zucchini grows like squash and will need a lot of room for its 5 foot runners. The light yellow-green fruit is slender with a bulbous end and should be harvested at about 10 inches.Leaving it on the vine can produce variously twisted squash 3 feet long and 6 inches wide. Firmer than the zucchini we're used to, the flavor is mild and delicious. Can be grown up a very strong trellis.
    • I've heard good things about this variety. I've been growing Costuluto Genovese the last few years as my summer squash, so I'm ready to try something new.
  • RED STREAKED MUSTARD (20-45 days): One of our favorite trials this year! The deeply serrated fringy baby leaves are purple-red and pack a zingy peppery flavor that gets bolder with age. Great to plant along with other baby greens to add some flare to a salad. It is slow to bolt but best planted in spring or fall. 
    • I've been growing this for several years now, so I need to replenish my seed stash. The taste is really great (similar to arugula) and the finely cut red foliage is absolutely gorgeous!
  • KYOTO MIZUNA GREENS (43 days heirloom): HEIRLOOM This popular Japanese green is often used as part of a Mesclun mix, but we feel it merits individual attention. The very attractive, deeply cut and serrated, narrow leaves grow vigorously into large bunched heads which resist bolting and allow for extended picking. With a mild, pleasant cabbagey flavor, Mizuna can be eaten raw in salads, or cooked in stir-fries, soups, etc.
    • Another green I've been growing for a while and need to restock.
  • AMBITION SHALLOT (F1 hybrid 100 days): A fine shallot for growing especially during the summer in the North. This one isn't really designed for "short day" conditions. Provides a nice sized bulb, 2 inches and very high yields. With the reddish brown skin and high-rounded shape it looks like a big nut. Shallots from seed are a bargain and Ambition will address a large cross-section of possible uses.
    • I grew this for the first time last year and was really pleased (and somewhat surprised). I didn't realize you could grow shallots from seed, I thought you had to buy bulbs. These grew nicely sized bulbs by the end of the summer and they've been storing really well. I still have some in my onion bin.
  • COPRA ONION (F1 hybrid 107 days): An excellent storage onion with a distinctive coppery brown skin and medium to large bulbs that are somewhat globular. The onions are as flavorful when you take them out of the root cellar in the Spring as they were the previous Fall. This is a very hard, sweet onion with thin tops that dry quickly.
    • My onion crop was great last year and I still have tons of onions in storage. However, the Ailsa Craig I grew last year is getting pretty mushy in storage. Copra is supposed to store well, so I'll give it a try.
  • BEIT ALPHA CUCUMBER (F1 hybrid 52 days): Also called a Lebanese or Middle Eastern cucumber, much of the breeding work on these varieties has been done in Israel. The large, smooth, somewhat blocky, burpless, and nearly spineless fruit can be either pickled or eaten fresh. The flavor, including that of the skin, is very mild. 
    • I've been eyeing this variety for a few years now, but I usually stay away from hybrid seed, if possible. However, this is the style of cucumber I like these days, so I'll try it.
  • HONEY & CREAM CORN (F1 hybrid 77 days): This long time favorite bicolor corn produces excellent flavor and appearance. Stalks are 7-1/2 feet tall and produce 7 inch ears with 12 to 14 rows per ear. Superior flavor for a normal sugary variety is the main attraction.
    • Another hybrid variety that I'm surprised I'm ordering. Last year's corn was a complete bust. I was dumb and planted popcorn and sweetcorn right next to each other. The result was popcorn that didn't pop and sweetcorn that was hard and starchy. This year I'm only planting a single variety, and this one has been popular for a long time.

January 23, 2014

What Does $500 Worth of Seeds Looks Like?

Well, it doesn't look like much! They came in a package smaller than a shoebox! Even though these seeds were really expensive, this is like a dream come true for me! I got to pick out virtually whatever I wanted to grow in the MSU Horticulture Gardens this year, so I'll be trying out some fun things I've never grown before.  And this order is only the beginning. I placed a second (albeit, much smaller) order this morning!

This order includes 70 different varieties, including annuals (for me), perennials (for the perennial manager), and vegetable/herbs (for the head garden manager).  Most of the seeds will be grown for our plant sale and fundraiser in May, but some of them are for the display beds in the annual garden.

I can't wait to get started! Unfortunately, we are currently only in week 4 (in terms of the horticulture industry calendar), so I'll have to wait until about week 9 before I can start sowing some of these.

January 22, 2014

The Last 6-Months: My Unbelievable New Job!

So my last post is dated July 1st, 2013, which happens to be the day I started my current job (which probably explains the lack of posts). I'm not sure I can still call it my "new job", since I've been at it for over 6 months now. The job still feels new to me since my tasks seem to change almost every 2 weeks. Until I complete a full year, I won't really know what the entire job entails.

I knew of the potential vacancy about 6 months in advance of the job being posted, so I had to wait and wait and wait some more. This was especially taxing considering that I had to jump from one temp-job to another about 5 times between finishing my Master's Degree and starting my current job. However, one of those temp jobs was pretty awesome...I got to teach a semester of undergraduate-level introductory biology. One of my main career goals has always been to teach at the college level, so achievement unlocked!!! Unfortunately I was an adjunct faculty, which means crummy pay and absolutely zero job security.

My official title is Annual Trial Garden Manager for the Michigan State University Horticulture Gardens. Most people don't know what trial gardens are, which makes the job frustrating at times. Here's a short explanation: Horticulture breeding companies (think Proven Winners, Syngenta, Ball Horticulture, etc.) send their newest (and usually unreleased) plant varieties to me to be grown in our gardens. Sometimes they send seeds, while other times they send rooted cuttings. We grow them in our greenhouses and once the plants are ready for transplant, we plant them in our gardens (in a very organized and well-documented manner). We then evaluate the plants throughout the growing season and assign scores to each plant. This numerical data (along with our personal comments) are summarized at the end of the growing season and sent back to the breeding companies. They use this information to determine if a variety is ready to be released to the general public. Sometimes, breeding companies also submit varieties that have already been released, simply so they can show off their plant material to the visitors to our gardens (we get approximately 200,000 visitors each year).

I'll explain more about my job in future posts (I could go on and on), but overall it has been an absolute blast. I feel incredibly privileged to find a career in the field I went to school for. This job is so much fun...it makes me feel like my 8 years of higher education were actually worth it.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...