Seasonal Flower Alliance: 5.16.14

I wandered through my garden all week this week looking at what pickings I would have come Thursday morning.  The pickings were rather slim… kind of.  The reality is that I have gobs of gorgeous foxgloves starting to bloom.  White, apricot, purple.  The are magnificent.  I planted them from seed last year and they are very old heirloom varieties.  I didn’t pick any.  I wanted to do a smaller arrangement.

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I also noticed that my single dark pink Peony was starting to open.  It is always the first.

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The first of the Iceland poppies opened as well.

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Along with the lovely lavender Rhododendron.  I love a Rhody with class.  I own 8 Rhodies.  5 I planted, 3 came with the house.  2 that came with the house I would like to remove, but this one lavender one steals my heart every time.

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She is elegant and semi-double.  She lasts as a good cut flower as long as you cut the truss when it isn’t fully open.  It is one of those shrubs that is totally covered in blossoms and you can hardly see any green when it is in full bloom.  I don’t do anything to this shrub.

So my original intent turned into a menagerie of one offs resulting in a mish-mash of color.

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I added chive blossoms and the first of the Geum (which isn’t a stand up cut flower).  For greens I used quince branches and a few sprigs of Spirea.  It isn’t my favorite arrangement, but it does add some color to the house.

Real Event: One Sweet World

Back in August my husband and I hosted the most amazing dinner in our back yard.  It was a combination of flop and huge success if there ever was such a thing.  It all started 7 years ago when we decided that we wanted to build a non-profit organization that helped orphaned children.  That is a very long story and has nothing to do with flowers.  You can read about it here (and I really really want you to).  The organization is called Sweet Hope Foundation and it is like a second child to me.

Back to this event.

The flop part.  The original intent was to host 2 dinners for about 40 people each.  We asked our board of directors to make a list of people who could be potential supporters of our organization, we’d invite them and have a lovely dinner.  Easy right?  We sent out over 80 invitations and only received a handful of responses.  A few were no, but those that responded yes were some of our very best friends.  The flop turned into something amazing.

We called it the ‘One Sweet World’ event.

We had 16 people join us that night in our garden.  I set one giant table and enjoyed a lovely evening with our friends.

IMGP1786We started the evening with wine and cheese and for the wine table I created a huge arrangement in a tall crystal vase.  I wanted the theme of the event to be rather soft and romantic.  I went with a pallet of soft pink, cream and blue.  The organization’s theme colors are pale blue and yellow with a splash of orange.

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The curtains in the background were attached to the posts of the pergola over the patio.  I dip dyed them earlier in the Summer and they make a beautiful backdrop.  All of the burlap on the tables had a stamped bee pattern.  I found the burlap at the fabric store and it was perfect since Sweet Hope is very well known for its bee.

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For the centerpieces I chose birch covered containers.  It was a little hipster chic, but the birch was very appropriate since the organization works primarily in Russia and a major art medium in Russia is birch.  The color pallet started with Limelight Hydrangeas.  It just so happened that the garden center I work at has 3 giant Limelight shrubs out front and they were in perfect bloom at the time of the dinner.  They were just starting to show blush pink.  I added soft pink roses, cream roses, garden roses, seeded eucalyptus, ammi, spray roses, poppy pods and rose hips from my Rosa ‘Glauca.’  I wish everything was locally grown, but sadly it was not.

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I made 6 low centerpieces that stretched down the table.

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The table was 16′ long with a single continuous table cloth.  I repeated the wine table look with the bee runner.  The plates were simple white and topped with Sweet Hope blue napkins wrapped with a small explanation of the organization.  The table was lit up with small candles and there were candles and torches elsewhere in the garden.

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I had been planning this event for months so the garden was in prime shape.  What you don’t see in the photos are the copious amounts of white impatiens in containers all over the garden.

I had a few flowers leftover so I made a small arrangement for the counter in the washroom right inside of the house.  We had just remodeled that room so I was particularly happy with that little touch (although it didn’t photograph that well).

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Despite the lack of responses for the event it turned out to be a huge success.  It was a lovely evening with wonderful friends for a great cause.  I invite you to learn more about Sweet Hope and the children it serves to help.

 

 

Garden Center Friday – Larch vs. Cherry

While I dream of being a full time flower farmer/florist I still have to hold a day job.  Since it is plants I know a garden center is the logical choice.  Long-time readers know this, but since I have a few new followers we’ll recap.  I’ve worked in the horticulture business for the past 15 years.  Most specifically the retail garden center.

Over those past 15 years I’ve gotten my fair share of the strange request. statement, question.  There are some things that really must be shared.  Not only so we can mutually chuckle at things, but to save you from yourself (or at least from pinning this stupid crap on Pinterest).

Now I don’t like weekly features while writing, but some of these things I just have to share.  Don’t hold me to a schedule m’kay.  I have ADD and get distracted by shiny things very easily.

The most recent of silly garden center stories comes from a customer who brought in a sample of a plant yesterday.  We quickly and easily identified the plant sample as a Larch (Larix).  This was an easy identify.  Much easier than the Fraxinus sieboldiana we had in earlier in the week.  The customer was very thankful that we could tell her what tree it was and was curious if we could get one for her.  Sadly we can only get the weeping variety and they are outrageously expensive.  This is not the funny part.

Here’s the funny part.

While we were talking with the customer she said she had taken the sample to the local large box store and they identified it as…. a cherry tree.

You may not be very familiar with what a Larch exactly is so let’s have a little lesson shall we.  Then you’ll be laughing along with me.

First… here is a photo of a cherry tree.yoshino_cherry_tree_3

I elected for a photo of a blooming cherry tree because, pretty.

Here is a Larch.

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It’s a little larger.  About 40′ taller.  The customer didn’t haul in a 60′ tall tree so I’ll give the box store employee the benefit of the doubt.  The customer brought in a little sample.  Ok, ok.  Let’s look a little closer.  Here’s a cherry leaf.

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Beautiful sample, no?  Here’s a Larch.

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Totally the same.  I could completely understand how the box store employee could mistake the Larch for a Cherry.  After all, they are both deciduous.  AND, that’s where the similarities end.

This is why Home Depot isn’t where you go to purchase plants.

Seasonal Flower Alliance – May 8

I mentioned I’d participate in this little venture.  It was thought up by Erin Benzakein and the concept is simple.  Create an arrangement from locally grown flowers just for the hell of it.  Take some photos and share it with the world.  I’ve been cutting and arranging flowers from my garden for years now, but I’ve never really photographed them let alone shared the photos.

I’m still swimming in lilacs around here.  I wanted to savor the scent and had planned on creating a number of arrangements for every room in the house, but instead I chose my largest vase and went nuts.

In the arrangement are lilacs (of course!), columbine, sage, mint and tree peonies.  I’ve had the most massive tree peony for the past 10 years, but I’ve never cut a single bloom off of it.  This year I cut 4!  I think it turned out beautiful.

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Lilac ‘Mme. Lemoine’, Lilac ‘Ludwig Spaeth’, Tree Peony (unknown variety), Black Lace Ninebark, Columbine, Sage & Mint

It is insanely huge.

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I’ve also decided that to do flowers justice you must photograph them with something other than an iPhone.

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While I love my iPhone and I’ve used it as my sole camera for the past few years (except for a few large trips) it doesn’t take photos nearly as well as my nice Pentax.  I know, I know… rebel in the camera world.  I don’t own the high end Cannon or Nikon.  I did it for a reason.  I’m a camera snob.  My camera is simple, it takes amazing photos AND I can use all of my manual lenses with it.

So back to flowers…

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What in the heck do you do with a huge arrangement?  It’s too big for the dining room table.  It’s too tall for the top of the entertainment center.  It’s too wide for the mantel.  So I put it on the hearth.  It was perfect when my friend Tyler came to visit.  It was right at hand level for him to experience.  Tyler is blind so he was able to enjoy the touch and smell of the arrangement.  I love it!

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A new direction in gardening

For years I’ve been a vegetable gardener.  A serious die-hard veggie nut.  I would spend months meticulously planning out succession plantings, the best heirloom varieties, maximizing my 3200 sq. ft. of space and planting, harvesting, weeding and generally being overwhelmed by the amount of produce I could grow in my space.  While vegetable growing is good for me and my family I’ve still been struggling with what I can only describe as a crisis of life.

Have you ever had a niggling dream at the back of your mind that you really wished would come true, but you keep telling yourself it is either a bad idea or just not feasible?  That’s me.

Many, many years ago I had a friend who was a florist.  I was insanely jealous that she had such an awesome job.  I wanted to be a florist.  One of my favorite things in the entire world is cut flowers.  I love them for myself, I love giving them to people, I love love love cut flowers.  I told my friend I was jealous and wanted her job.  She then turned to me and told me how much she hated it.  She told me that I would no longer love any holiday.  Her hands hurt all the time.  She hated the cranky bossy brides.  Her own boss was a jerk.  She did everything in the world to tell me that this was not what I wanted to do.  So I listened to her.  I put the idea of being a florist at the back of my mind.  Locked it away and tried to forget about it.

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I bought a house, started growing plants, cut flowers from my garden and made beautiful things.  I went to work in a retail garden center and occasionally got the pleasure of occasionally going to the cut flower wholesaler to pick up things like ribbon and foil wrap for potted plants.  I eyed the swinging double doors of the cooler and wondered what treasures were hiding behind them.  I never peeked in.  I would drive by flower shops and wonder, are you hiring?  But I knew that I was getting older and a career switch just wasn’t in the cards.  I would have to start at the bottom and I needed to make more money than that.

A few years ago a good friend of one of my bosses was getting married.  Travis did the flowers for the wedding and when the boxes of beautiful stems were delivered I begged if I could help.  He let me go with him to his house to put the stems in buckets of water.  I saw the masses of lisianthus, roses and greenery.  The memory of wanting that dream came flooding in and I’ve been hooked ever since.  It is all I can think about.  It consumes my time.

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Last year I learned that there is a small burgeoning faction of gardeners hell bent on bringing the cut flower industry back to the US.  From slow food (of which I’m a complete believer) comes slow flowers.  What a big fat duh that is!  I learned that these small scale farmers are growing the most beautiful cut flowers and some are even farmer/florists.  WAIT!  WHAT?  You grow flowers… you arrange flowers… and you make money?!  I could do that.

Of course I can’t just up and quit my day job.  I still have bills to pay and my personal plot of land isn’t quite big enough to pay the mortgage in flowers alone.  Besides, I have experience growing things, but not so much as an actual crop.  There’s a learning curve.

I decided to dedicate this growing season to figuring it out.  I did not start a single tomato plant in the greenhouse.  Instead I started sweet peas, zinnias, columbine, marigolds, globe amaranth, snapdragons and stock.  I threw my veggie garden in in an afternoon, but I’ve carefully planned out colors of the 75 dahlia tubers I’ve put in.  I’ve been lucky enough to be promoted from putting flowers in a bucket to turning this:

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Into things like this:

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and this:

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I’ve followed the stories of flower growers like Jennie Love and Erin Benzakein, two women I greatly admire.  I’ve found inspiration through the lens of instagram and a whole host of other flower farmers/florist around the world.  I’ve realized I can do this.  I just need to have confidence.  I need to take a risk.

like planting paperwhites in the garden

like planting paperwhites in the garden

I’m also going to play with my design skills by participating in the Seasonal Flower Alliance.  It’s a risk.  I’m willing to take it.  Wish me luck!  Or at the very least… follow along.

Last week's arrangement.  Lilacs, paperwhites, spirea, columbine & cenataurea

Last week’s arrangement. Lilacs, paperwhites, spirea, columbine & cenataurea

Pinterest Myths

I realize that a good number of new visitors come to my site from a fluke post about composting that made it to the Home Depot Gardening Club Pinterest site.  Oh the irony.

In my line of work I get at least a daily request for some thing that was found on Pinterest.  The good news is I too have a Pinterest account (you can totally follow me through that link over there —–>).  The reason I have such an account is 1) because I’m a craft junkie 2) I get an almost daily request for stuff found on Pinterest.  Here are a few that I know will or will not work.

Growing Celery From the Stump

The infamous photo of celery growing from the stump in an Irish oatmeal can is pretty much a staple on the P-interest.  In fact search regrow anything and you’ll get a bajillion hits.  If you ask me it’s all a crock of crap.  At least that’s what I used to think.  My neighbor is proving me wrong and I hate it when she does that.  It is possible to grow celery from the cut off stump, but it is really only successful if you plant it in dirt.  That is true for the majority of the same types of things you see on Pinterest.  If you stick green onion bits in a glass of water they are going to be spindly, slimy, worthless green onions.  At that point you really are much better off purchasing a packet of seeds and sowing them in your garden (or a container).  Green onions are super simple to grow.  Celery… that’s a little more tricky.  But apparently it does grow from a stump in the garden.

Lemongrass

Here’s how this one goes.

“Do you have Lemongrass?” or

I can't give credit for this photo because I honestly can't find where the original came from.

I can’t give credit for this photo because I honestly can’t find where the original came from.

“When will you get your lemongrass in?” or

“I saw this thing on Pinterest where you can pot Lemongrass in a giant pot and it will repel mosquitoes and give you great privacy”

I said at one point I can tell what people are doing by what they ask for.  There are the weed growers, the square foot gardeners and now the Pinterest fans.  Ask for lemongrass?  I know you have a P-interest account.

Here’s the scoop on lemongrass.  It is not hardy in the Pacific Northwest.  It comes in puny little 4″ pots, from 1 grower, who isn’t growing it this year.  When we can get it it flounders and will never look like the photo.  I hate to disappoint.

Rose Cuttings in Potatoes

This one makes me cringe.  So much so that I want to shake people who ask about it.  Ok, I won’t shake you… very hard.

Let’s get one thing straight.  Potatoes are weeds.  Seriously.  If you couldn’t eat potatoes I would totally curse their name much like that horrible grass.  Any tiny little bit of potato left in the garden will grow a whole new plant.  Trust me.  I have potatoes growing in nearly every bed in my garden.  I even have them growing in the pathways where I’d dropped a tiny potato-ling last year.

Stick a rose stem into a potato and put it in the ground?  I dare you.  You might get a rosebush, but you’ll also get a lifetime supply of potatoes.  Of course that would go well with your “lifetime supply of celery.”

Pardon the Spring

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Spring as nice as this one has been.  Sure, it started out a little sketch, but it has shaped up to be magnificent.  80 degrees in May, 2 days in a row?!  I believe I’m suffering from vitamin D overload.

Of course the warmer weather means one thing in the nursery business… busy.  Not only is it busy, but we’re going into the busiest week of the garden center season, the week before Mother’s Day.

Ask any nursery employee and they will tell you the single busiest day of the year is Mother’s Day Saturday.  I’ve worked in nurseries all over and it is always the same.  We start the day at the ass crack of dawn and if there isn’t a cocktail waiting for us when we walk in the door at the end of the day we get stabby.

Yesterday I started my day at 9:30 (not including the hour of work I did at home) (and Travis started at 8:00) and we left the nursery at 7:45 p.m.  We never sat down and lunch consisted of cold pizza eaten standing at the counter.  I should mention that the pizza was ordered hot.  It just took us a few hours to get to it.

So if tips and tidbits seem few and far between it doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned you.  It just means that I am spending every waking moment at work.  And I love it.

World’s Best Garden Gloves

I am a Pacific Northwest Gardener.  There is one thing that the PNW has no shortage of.  It’s water.  If it isn’t raining then it’s dry and we have to water.  We get used to a certain level of damp.  The problem I have with this damp is that I always wear garden gloves while…well, gardening.  Since I work in the garden business and my biggest pastime happens to be, again, gardening, it means I work in the garden all. the. time.  This translates to wet hands, or rather gloves all. the. time.

IDShot_225x225I have been on the hunt for a fully waterproof, light weight garden glove.  It would be the perfect glove for the Northwest gardener.  Think about it.  The person who came up with the idea could be rich!  A glove that is durable.  Where the fingers don’t wear through in a week.  A glove that is waterproof.  Not just the palms, but the whole thing.  Submerge your whole hand in a bucket of water waterproof.  They would be perfect!

I was watching Bunty’s Blog and she mentioned the gloves she wears.  They sounded like what I was looking for.  I did a quick internet search and it just so happens that you can’t buy these gloves in the US.  They are Spontex Garden Comfort Gloves.  Amazon.co.uk didn’t even have this particular glove.  One of the only places I could find them online was Tesco Grocery in the UK.

Hey!  It just so happens that one of my very good friends lives in London!  I made a deal with her.  She buy me the gloves and I will buy her something she can’t get and we’ll swap.  It was a perfect plan.

Yesterday a package arrived from London.  It contained 2 new pair of garden gloves.  All it cost me was a few garden/scrapbook magazines and a little shipping.  I’m so excited!

Happy Gardening.

The grass that haunts my dreams

I’m fairly certain that a gardener’s worst enemy is grass.  Specifically some weird unknown grass that haunts my dreams.  I can’t tell if it’s creeping bentgrass or tall fescue.  All I know is it is vigorous and any small piece of root left will sprout and regrow.

I’m on a mission this year to eradicate this grass in all of my flower beds.  I’ve lived in my house 9 1/2 years and have battled this grass the whole time.  A few years ago we took care of it in the large corner perennial bed.  Last year I tried everything I could to kill it in another part of the garden.  I sprayed it with toxic grass killer.  It laughed at me.  I covered it with black plastic for a year.  I’m pretty sure it gave me the middle finger.  I finally cursed its name and dug it out.

There are 2 more areas that are infested with this grass.  One such area happens to be right outside my bedroom window.  I wake up every morning, look at the window and see this:

IMG_2436If you look closely you’ll see wild strawberry, sedum rupestre and ivy leaves in that photo.  Yes, under that grass it was once landscaped (well with the exception of the ivy).  This is my beautiful rock garden my husband built for me 8 years ago.  It was one gorgeous.  He built the wall around 3 large green ceramic pots (that I’ve since moved onto the patio).  Friday I decided to tackle the rock wall area, but when I set to it I found the grass was so thick that I could’t take it out without the curse words.

As I dug I found that Dane the Dumbass Previous Homeowner had put down landscape fabric.  Next to this particular grass, landscape fabric is made of pure evil.  About an hour into pulling out the grass I had only gained about 2′ on it.  I elected to pull out the big guns.

IMG_2439You know it is bad when you have to use a pick axe to weed your garden.  I worked all day on Friday and only had 1/2 of the area fully de-grassed.  I enlisted the help of my husband to work the other side.  I should also mention that while we were pulling out the grass we also were pulling out most of the desirable landscape plants, potting them and trying to save them.  We were also pulling out all of the rocks with the intention of rebuilding the wall.

We were finally rained out Saturday afternoon, but all of the grass was removed, a few plants I thought I couldn’t save were spared and the wall is starting to take shape.

IMG_2443This isn’t the best photo of the area since the morning sun was pretty harsh, but I can see such potential for the space.  I woke up this morning and looked out the window and didn’t see any grass.  I could look at the bare rocks all day it was so nice.

Only one more area of grass to go.  I’ll have to wait 2 weeks to finish that since we have to finish the wall and both of our yard waste bins are full.  Now, if I were smart I would build a small moveable chicken run and put the girls in there to take care of the grass for me.  Hmm…

 

 

 

Planting Potatoes in Buckets

Here it is mid-April again and I’m writing about potatoes.  Man, I just can’t get it together to plant potatoes in March when they are “supposed” to go in.  Just to prove that planting them in April is ok I’ll let you in on a secret.  Some of the potatoes I planted this year are ones we didn’t eat from last year.  HA!  That means I had extra potatoes from my harvest.

Last year I grew my potatoes in a raised bed.  I can’t quite remember how many pounds I harvested in the end, but it was about a 15 gallon bucket full.  It was enough for us.  In one bed the seed potatoes were planted in almost all soil.  In the other I filled the bed with about 1/2 straw and the rest soil.  I will tell you now that the bed that was primarily soil fared much better.  I don’t personally suggest using straw as a bedding material for potatoes.  Chickens, yes.  Potatoes, no.

This year I’ve elected to go back to my good ol’ fashioned potatoes in nursery buckets.  I’m tired of not being able to get all of the potatoes out of the beds and having to contend with digging out last years crop.  Besides, if I do potatoes in the buckets I have more room in the beds for other things.

I’m fairly certain this is the ultimate in lazy gardener.  Sure, the raised bed method was easy, but even my 8 year old could do this.

First you need to collect a few supplies.  You’ll need a large bucket of some sort.  I use 10-15 gallon nursery buckets that I pick up at my store.  You can ask your local garden center or big box store if they have cheap or free pots you can have.  We sell our containers over 7 gallons for $5 each.  I’ve collected mine from trees I’ve planted in my garden.  You will also need seed potatoes, soil and some fertilizer.

I purchased seed potatoes for 2 of the 5 varieties I’m planting.  Seed potatoes are found in garden centers starting around the end of February through April.  Later in the season centers will sell out of seed potatoes so you selection may be more limited.  I had left over potatoes from last year’s harvest so I used a few of those.  I only suggest this if you did not have any disease issues (blight) on your crop last year.  If you did have diseases DO NOT replant potatoes.  You will only be spreading that disease.  This year I’m planting French Fingerling & Red Sunset (purchased), Russet Burbank, German Butterball & Yukon Gold (Gem?) (leftovers).

IMG_2419The first step is to put a few inches of soil in the bottom of the container.  I’m using compost from the giant pile in my driveway.  You can use planting mix or potting soil too.  I just happen to have this giant pile in my driveway.  About 4″ in the bottom of the pot is fine.

IMG_2420Next sprinkle on a bit of that Dr. Earth Tomato & Veggie fertilizer & mix it in a bit.

IMG_2421Then put in the potatoes.  I put in quite a few for each pot.  Figure you’ll get 5-10 pounds of potatoes for each medium seed potato.  I will once again note that I don’t cut my seed potatoes.  I choose medium sized seed potatoes and plant them whole… lazy.

IMG_2422These were 15 gallon buckets and I went a little crazy with seed potatoes.  Then put a few more inches of soil on top.  About 4″ is fine.  I’ll let the potatoes grow and when the plant is about 6″ high I’ll add another 4″ of soil.  Repeat that process until the soil is at the top of the pot.  Then water the containers regularly.  When the plant flowers cut back the watering by 1/2.  When the plant turns yellow stop watering all together.  Once the plant is totally dead dump the soil out onto a tarp and harvest your bounty.

I decided to experiment a bit with the Yukon Gems.  I am planting those in 5 gallon buckets.  I put 1 seed potato in each bucket and I’m using the same layering method.  The idea is to see exactly how many pounds per seed potato I can get.

IMG_2423Are you planting potatoes this year?  What kinds and what method are you using?

 

 

 

 

 

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