It's December in eastern Connecticut, and like many gardeners in the winter months, I've got plants on the brain! In between bouts of chasing after my toddler, I'm flipping through seed catalogs, checking seed websites, and making notes on my phone of all the plants I intend to grow, and where to put them. I'm very excited to be planning the flower plants that I will grow for the many beautiful weddings we've booked, to be selecting varieties to offer in our spring plant sale, and to be choosing the vegetable crops I will grow to feed my family. Some plants from each of these three varieties made the list here. The crops profiled in this blog post are just a few of the crop varieties that I'm most excited about, and there are many more plants that we grow here. If there's a plant that you really want to see in our plant sale, or if you're looking to hire us to custom grow, harvest and arrange flowers for your 2024 o4 20205 wedding, please reach out to email@example.com because none of my plans are finalized yet!
If you enjoy this blog post and would like to check out the plants I was most excited to grow in 2022, then please read this one, too.
Roque Starburst Dahlia
It was hard to take a photograph that captured just how huge this dahlia was until I posed with it laying on my chest.
Roque starburst takes center stage in this bouquet. The bouquet also features four Oklahoma white zinnias, one of my other plants I'm most excited for in 2024.
Roque starburst dahlia was a new variety to me in the 2023 growing season, and it certainly did not disappoint! I have nothing but glowing reviews to give this flower. Roque starburst brought all the classic colors for wedding flowers. The blooms ranged from palest blush, through faintest buff, to creamy white and were huge with innumerable perfect petals. Somehow, the stems of these plants were strong enough to hold up these giant blooms without collapsing from their weight. It was so fun to grow a flower bigger than my face, and our brides loved the blooms, too. The handful of plants that I had each produced a decent amount of tubers. I'm constantly checking on them to make sure the tubers have the correct amount of moisture so that they do not rot nor dry out during winter storage. If all goes well, I should have enough tubers of roque starburst to sell them and ship them in spring 2025. Yes, us gardeners and farmers really do plan some things a long time in advance. But of course, I have learned to never count my chickens (or my dahlia tubers) before they hatch. While you're waiting for us to have roque starburst available, feel free to browse some of our other dahlia tuber varieties that we will be shipping 2024! Browse dahlia tubers.
Bringing a bowl of ground cherries, peppers and tomatoes to a friend. It was hard to find a picture of the ground cherries, because we usually gobble them all up in the field as soon as they are ready.
Ground cherry plants at our plant sale, waiting for someone to take them home. Ground cherries are a distant relative of tomatoes.
If my son were reviewing the ground cherries, he would give them six stars out of five, and certainly include them at the top of his list to plant. I consider these a must grow if you have children. Every afternoon at the farm, my son (about 16 months at the time) would run over to the ground cherry patch and whine until I picked him a nice handful to eat. The ground cherry vines creep along the ground (hence the name) and produce fruits in little paper sacks. It was certainly a labor of love to harvest and peel these fruits for my son, but I'd do it a million times over to see his smiles from eating a healthy treat from the garden. He beamed with pride the day when he learned to peel the paper off the ground cherries himself, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Two months after the frost has killed the ground cherry plants, he still runs over to that part of the field and says "more." We will definitely be growing more ground cherries here on the farm for our personal food use. We will also be offering this plant in the spring 2023 plant sale, so if you were wondering where to buy ground cherry plants in Connecticut, you can come to us. By the way, I haven't finalized the 2023 plant sale list yet, so please check back (or subscribe) to see it when it comes out.
Montana Morado Corn
I'm so excited about growing Montana Morado corn, I already ordered my seeds from Fedco and received them. Just look at these midnight black beauties in my hand. I can't wait to grow them, and with any luck, we'll be eating purple cornbread next winter.
I've always found growing my own food to be enormously satisfying to my belly, mind and soul. More recently, I've become deeply concerned about issues of toxic contamination in our food supply. Sadly, there recently was a case where many toddlers were lead poisoned (can cause permanent disability) by apple sauce that contained cinnamon adulterated with lead. While the investigation is ongoing, it seems likely that the lead was intentionally added to the cinnamon as a cost cutting measure by the producer (read more from the FDA here). With a little one at home, I want to know that I have a safe food supply for us, and nothing gives me more comfort than growing a staple food, like corn, that can last us through the winter and supply a good amount of our calories and nutrients. We're growing our own corn so we can know exactly what went into our food. So you can go ahead and send me your corn bread, grits, tortilla, polenta, hominy, posole and other dried corn recipes!
I chose Montana Morado corn because the breeder, Dave Christensen, selected it to thrive in the harsh growing conditions of Montana. The corn tolerates both cold and heat, and matures in just a quick 85 days. I love fast growing crops, and many of my plant sale staples, such as nor'easter pole bean, have a very short number of days to harvest. The fewer the days to harvest, the lesser the chance for pests or bad weather to come and ruin your harvest. In addition to easy growing, Montana Morado was also selected for a deep purple color, nearly black (just look at those corn seeds in the picture above). The purple pigment in corn comes from anthocyanin, which studies have shown may help prevent cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. I love life here on the farm and want to stay healthy and be able to do this hard work for as long as possible, so we'll take an extra helping of the anthocyanins, please. Some sources also suggest that in addition to anthocyanins, Montana Morado corn may also have as much as 50% more protein than most flour corn varieties. can you tell that I'm very excited about this corn? I will definitely be reporting back on how it grows for us, and how our harvest goes.
I ordered these beautiful gaucho beans from Fedco and can't wait to grow them. They're a beautiful golden color and look like they'll make some delicious soup.
I lost my entire dried soup bean crop to excess rain this year . . . which made be want to grow more beans?! It may seem paradoxical, but I always am up to learn from my mistakes and to try again. When I read that the gaucho bean dries down very quickly once it reaches maturity, therefore making it less susceptible to molding during excess rains, I decided to grow some. Gaucho is also a bush bean, which means we can easily put insect netting over it if a hoard of Mexican bean beetles decides to come through and eat up all our bean plants, as has happened in some years. Gaucho is also known as a flavorful variety. My son loves to eat beans, and if I'm successful, I'll be so happy and proud to be serving him up beans from our garden next winter. I even bought a pressure canner so that I can make canned baked beans from our homegrown gaucho beans, and have a quick, convenient meal for those busy times on the farm. Native Americans were very wise to choose corn and beans as their staples, because together these two crops supply all the essential amino acids that we need to survive. Have you ever grown dried beans before? I encourage you to give it a try. I had a beautiful harvest of dried beans in 2020 and it was fun to make chili with beans from our garden during cold winter nights.
Oklahoma White Zinnias
Oklahoma white zinnias are on the left side of this image, and garlic chives are on the right. If you've been following along with my blog posts, you might notice that garlic chives were one of the plants I was most excited to grow in 2022.
White is always in demand for wedding flowers. It is traditional, classic, and elegant. It goes with almost any bridesmaid dress color or wedding decor color. If only there were a white flower that you can plant once in the spring, and then harvest all summer and fall for beautiful wedding bouquets. Oh wait, there is one. It's the Oklahoma White Zinnia. This zinnia variety proved to have remarkable disease resistance for us, and kept blooming as long as we kept them dead headed. We really only would have needed one succession to keep us in zinnias all summer and fall. Of course, I'll probably always still succession plant them, because there's no better insurance policy when you really need a crop, such as when a couple is relying on you to provide flowers for their special day. Which reminds me that I really need to write a blog post on succession planting. Anyways, just look at that perfectly round, perfectly white, multi-petaled zinnia in the picture above. I've grown other white zinnia varieties that easily succumbed to disease, or that survived disease, but produced marred and/or asymmetrical blooms. Oklahoma white zinnia is a winning variety for me for both its disease resistance and beauty.
This picture of one of our butternut squash vines was captured on September 4th! Despite being loaded with fruits, the vine was still trying to make more. Given the exceptionally late first frost we had this season, it probably would have had enough time for this little squash to mature. But we decided we had produced as much squash as we needed, and that the space would be better utilized to grow cover crops.
Using a wheelbarrow to haul in the butternut squash.
Butternut squash curing in our greenhouse. Curing in a warm space for a week or two hardens the skin and helps the squash last longer in storage.
Yes, as a person possessing a botany degree, I do understand that winter squash is a category encompassing three different species, and hundreds of varieties within each species (by the way, a pumpkin is just any round shaped winter squash). There are just so very many winter squash that I'm excited to grow in 2024, that if I profiled each one individually, this blog post would be half winter squash. 2023 was a phenomenal squash growing year in our area, the likes of which we've never seen, and someone needs to tear the packets of squash seeds from my hands before I turn this place into Sterling Squash Farm. We're still eating from the 70 beautiful butternut squash that we picked from 20 plants in September. While the weather will likely be not as favorable to squash in 2024 as it was in 2023, I do credit some of my squash growing success to a few tricks that I've dialed in. Sweet alyssum (see next plant profile below) brought in a small army of parasitoid wasps that knocked out many of the squash insect pests that plague our area. Also I waited to transplant my squash until June 1, nearly a month after our typical last frost date. I've found that by waiting to transplant, I miss out on some of the flights of pest insects that happen earlier in the spring. Waiting to transplant also lets the squash establish in warmer weather when it can grow faster than the bugs can eat it.
Waltham Butternut - The squash that inspired my love of winter squash. These plants produced so beautifully for us, and the squash have only gotten sweeter the further we get into winter storage. I baked a pie with this squash, and it tasted just like pumpkin pie, but better. Another favorite way I've been cooking with it is in soups. If you deal with a lot of squash bugs, like we do, then you'll be comforted to know that butternuts are in the Cucurbita moschata squash species, which the bugs don't tend to favor.
Spaghetti Squash - The winter squash for people who don't like winter squash. The flavor is sweet and nutty and utterly different from most squash and pumpkins. The texture is also different, resembling strings of spaghetti, but possessing less carbohydrates and calories than actual spaghetti.
Kakai Pumpkin - The winter squash for healthy snacking. Have you ever bought green pumpkin seeds from a health food store, or maybe seen them in your trail mix? And then compared them to the seeds from your jack o'lantern, and wondered why they don't have the white shell? I used to think that the pumpkin seeds without the shell had their shell removed by a machine in a factory. I had no idea that they were actually grown that way. Kakai is one of several pumpkin varieties bred to lack a shell on the seed (also known as a hulless variety). Pumpkin seeds are high in protein and healthy fats.
Black Futsu Squash - The luxury winter squash. Four months into eating the abundance of butternut squash from our garden, I am regretting that we didn't grow any black futsu squash this year. Despite my squash enthusiasm, I'm getting a little tired of eating the same flavor squash over and over again. Black futsu has a very different flavor than the butternut, and is reminiscent of roasted chestnuts. The skin of the black futsu squash is thin and edible, which is a perk for anyone like me who hates food waste.
I wish that you could smell this photo of the sweet alyssum. It smells amazing.
I was shocked at how long this batch of cucumber plants grew, and how few pest insects were in them. I have to give a lot of credit to their neighbor, the sweet alyssum.
I grew a small patch of sweet alyssum in 2023, and reaped two major benefits to my farm. The first benefit was realized as I was wandering around the farm, trying to find the source of the deliciously sweet, honeyed vanilla scent that was wafting in on the breeze. I thought that maybe one of my neighbors was baking a giant batch of sugar cookies, only to discover that the smell was coming from the sweet alyssum. The sweetly scented little flowers not only attract fragrance loving gardeners, but also many helpful insects. The most notable of these are the parasitoid wasps that I mentioned earlier. Parasitoid wasps look like tiny flies. They feed on the nectar of flowers, and lay their eggs in larger, more harmful insects (or in the eggs of the pest insects). The wasp eggs hatch and the wasp larva eat the harmful insects from the inside out. Nature is so weird, wonderful and wicked all at once.
Why do we grow sweet alyssum even though we are a flower farm? The sweet alyssum blooms earlier than our flower crops, attracting the beneficial insects before the pest insects have a chance to get out of hand. It also produces many more blooms per square foot than our crop flowers. Finally, it has attractive fragrance to lure in the beneficial insects, while most of our crop flowers are unscented. I highly recommend sweet alyssum, and will be tucking a few plants into almost every row on the farm. I will also be offering as a seedling during our spring plant sale for you to grow in your home garden.
Versailles Mix Cosmos
This honey bee sure was appreciative of this versailles cosmo on an October day when not much else was blooming.
Some of the cosmos plants grew to such an incredible height that they fell over, and yet they still kept blooming.
We grew versailles cosmos on our farm for the first time in 2023, and also offered it in our plant sale. It grew all summer long from a May planting, throwing out beautiful blooms in pure white, deep burgundy, and vibrant pink. Eventually the plants reached towering heights over 7 feet, and were still blooming abundantly in September and early October long after other cosmos varieties had quit. We're excited to be offering versailles cosmos again in our spring 2024 plant sale, and to be growing it again for wedding bouquets. Maybe we'll even find room in our greenhouses to sneak in an early spring planting to have cosmos to tuck into our mother's day bouquets.