Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Sunflower Garden Planting Guide

A bouquet from last summer
Flowers include Autumn Beauty, Sungold, Stella Gold,
Greenburst, and Moulin Rouge
I'm just getting around to thinking about my garden this year. I'm a late gardener - putting in my garden in mid-June. I thought some of you might be interested in planting sunflowers in your garden this year. I am sharing this Sunflower Garden Planting Guide for any of you interested in growing sunflowers in your garden. It was originally posted in April of 2015 but all of the information is still accurate. Enjoy all you sunflower lovers and growers! I can't wait to see these pretty blooms again in late August. 

If you have followed me for any length of time, you know I grow sunflowers every summer. I heard from Melissa, a childhood friend of mine who follows my blog. She asked for a list of my favorite varieties of sunflowers. I think there may be more of you out there who might like to plant sunflowers this summer so I put this Sunflower Growing Guide together for all of my readers. Please share this post with your fellow gardening friends! FYI - I grow in western Massachusetts. All photos by me taken either at our Farmhouse Garden or at our Sunflower Field (from a few years ago). 

First off - there are two companies I buy seeds from. My longtime supplier has been Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine. They ship amazingly quickly from Maine. No minimums and they have some mixed variety packs for those of you with small gardens. 

My second supplier (a recent find) is SunflowerSelections  in California. I heard about them through this NY Times article. I have purchased from them since 2012 and have nothing but good things to say about the company, service and the varieties they offer. SunflowerSelections is actually a subsidiary of NuFlowers, a breeder of sunflower varieties. The only downfall is their packs are 100 seeds and there is a $15.00 minimum.  Their website is set up to sort by colors, branching, single stem, and more. 

So here are some of my thoughts about growing sunflowers. This is what I have learned from many years of growing them. 

1.You need sun! Shade doesn't work for them and long days of sun will yield much better flowers.
2. Although you can plant sunflowers early in the season, I wait until the middle to end of June to plant. This will give me flowers through frost. I have planted as late as the beginning of August and still gotten flowers - they are smaller because of the shortening days at that time of year. 
3. There are two kinds of sunflowers - Branching (many flowers per plant) and Single Stem (one flower per plant). I prefer the branching sunflowers to the single varieties (ProCut, Sunbright, and Sunrich strains). You get more sunflower blossoms per seed and they have a wild and unruly appearance which really appeals to me. 
4. Florists and growers usually plant the single varieties because they are reliable, are sturdy, and ship well. For the home gardener (me) they are a bit of a disappointment because they take up room and I only get one flower per stem. That said - they are very quick to bloom so I usually plant some so I get flowers quickly. 
5. Once my plants are about 8 inches tall, I mulch the heck out of them to hold the water in the soil and keep the weeds down. Once they get going, they grow like crazy and shade out most of the weeds. 
6. I don't fertilize my sunflowers. I have basic garden soil and the mulch from the previous year gets tilled in. I do add manure from my chickens and the sheep though every other year or so. 
7. Don't crowd the sunflowers. If you do, they will be stunted and not thrive. I plant about 2 to 3 seeds every 12" or so. That gives me insurance in case the birds or mice eat the seeds. 
8. Sunflowers tend to not transplant well. Plant them where you want them and be patient. They will grow as long as they have sun.  
9. There are dwarf varieties of sunflowers available but I don't grow them. I did once and they just didn't seem right. I am fortunate to have lots of sun and space but if you are tight on space, check out these selections via SunflowerSelections. 
10. Most of the branching sunflowers have one very large top flower. If you pinch (or harvest) the top flower, the lower branches will grow longer stems and the flowers will be bigger.
11. If you are looking to grow the giant sunflowers for bird seed, I do suggest you plant them as early as possible. They need a long time to grow huge and win any contests. If you plant them later, they will be shorter and the heads will be smaller. I like the variety called Mammoth Russian available from Burpee

Here are the Sunflower varieties I highly recommend with links to each supplier who stocks the seeds. I have described why I enjoy each of the varieties. Don't wait to order your seeds because they often run out of popular varieties. The variety is BELOW each photo. 

Both photos - Autumn Beauty
Autumn Beauty - Branching. This sunflower is long season and needs a while to bloom. It gets very tall. Order seeds early as they are often sold out. This is Mark's favorite sunflower. The plants get huge and send out tons and tons of flowers. There is a wide range of colors - light yellow, light yellow with pink tinged centers, dark brown, rust, red, maroon, bronze, and classic sunflower yellow. If we had to choose one sunflower to grow, this would probably be it because you get such a variety of colors. Has pollen for those averse to it. 

Moulin Rouge Sunflower
Moulin Rouge - Branching. This is a gorgeous wine colored sunflower that looks lovely in bouquets. It is one of the earlier sunflowers to bloom. When we grew sunflowers in our field on the main road, this was a favorite of many of our customers. It doesn't ship well so that is why you probably have never seen one in a florist's bouquet. (FYI - SunflowerSelections has a new red branching variety called Black Beauty that I am trying this year to compare to Moulin Rouge.)
Joker Sunflower

Joker - Branching. I love this multi-colored sunflower. It is one of the first to bloom. The center is edged with a fringe of teeny petals. The outer petals are long. Once in a while, there will be a plant that has different looking blooms on each branch. It lasts a long time in a vase and is quite sturdy. Not too tall but definitely not short. 


Orange Ruffles Sunflower

Orange Ruffles - Branching. This sunflower was new to me last year and it rocked! Similar to The Joker and Greenburst, it has a brown center with a fringe of mini yellow petals. Seriously gorgeous. 


Greenburst Sunflower - Top Flower

Small Greenburst Bloom from one of the bottom branches

Greenburst - Branching. This sunflower was new to me last year and I am in love! Reminiscent of Sungold, it has a tight chartreuse center surrounded by hundreds of tiny petals. The outer edge of the flower has slim long petals. The top bloom is big (8") if you let it grow. If you cut it off early, the smaller lower branches will produce bigger pretty (although smaller) blooms. Long vase life. 


Sunbright Sunflower

Sunbright - A single stem variety that is the classic sunflower. Quick to bloom. I always plant these so I have big blooms quickly. This variety is often grown commercially as is the Pro-Cut varieties which I am not highlighting here in this Planting Guide. 


American Giant Sunflower

American Giant - This is the classic GIANT sunflower. One giant head per stem. These plants are like small trees by the end of the season. It is best to give them lots and lots of room to grow. They will shade out other plants so if you have a spot, away from your regular garden that has good sun - plant a few there for fun. You will have a giant seed head to feed to the birds. You could also plant a "sunflower house" for your kids and grandkids. 

Sungold Sunflower

Sungold - Branching. You need to have a long growing season for this gorgeous, puffy sunflower. They are always the last to bloom in my garden and I usually plant them first! The top flower will be the largest. Once you cut the top flower (usually 10" across) with its short stem, the lower flowers will grow with longer stems. A few years, the frost got mine before they bloomed, so plant them first! 

Holiday Sunflower
Holiday Sunflower backed by Autumn Beauty

Holiday - I love this sunflower for its vigorous nature. You will get so many blooms off each plant. The blooms are not very big - about 5" or so. It does drop a lot of pollen (for those of you who are clean freaks). The blooms develop in the vase nicely. 


Golden Cheer Sunflower
Golden Cheer - Branching. This variety was new to me last year. It is similar to Greenburst with a larger green center. It has a frilly textured edge to the center. Gorgeous. I plan on growing it again this year. 

Stella Gold Sunflower
Stella Gold - Single. This is a quick growing sunflower with extremely long petals. I grew it for many years and then couldn't find the source of seeds until I discovered SunflowerSelections. Funny thing is years ago when I grew it, the centers were rather mis-shapen - almost oval in shape. I loved that. The seeds from SS are a bit more perfect. I miss the wonkiness but love the very long spider like petals. 

Above is a mixed bouquet from last summer. Flowers included are: Autumn Beauty, Moulin Rouge, Greenburst. I like mixing in some of the over mature "done" sunflowers for interest. 

I hope you will try to grow some sunflowers this summer in your garden or along the edge of your yard. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Greenfield Recorder Article + Video of Sheep Shearing at Leyden Glen Farm

A few weeks ago, we did the annual sheep shearing at our farm over two days with two shearers - Kevin Ford and Gwen Hinman. Richie Davis, the senior reporter for The Greenfield Recorder came to interview Kevin Ford as he is a bit of a local celebrity in some circles. How many people do you know that have shorn sheep around the world using blade shears that look they came out of a forge from the Middle Ages? 

Here is a link to the article

Photographer Paul Franz came to document the day and events. He also shot some video and put together this nice little film of shearing at Leyden Glen Farm. Enjoy.

Thanks to The Greenfield Recorder, Richie and Paul for documenting one of the big days here at our farm. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wild Things

Boy, I do love spring. Color and nature burst forth at such a rapid rate that it is hard to take it all in. I especially love the spring wildflowers. Over the years, I have discovered patches of different kinds of wildflowers. Each spring, I go looking again to see if they are blooming in the same spot. 

This year, along our road, next to a little stream that dries out in the summer, there was a massive group of beautiful maroon trillium. I couldn't believe my luck in seeing them. They are done now but I was lucky enough to get a few photos to share. 

Bluets are not very rare but they sure are pretty.  I love the dainty little flowers and the pretty light bluish-purple tinge on the outside of the petals. They remind me of the forget-me-knots my Mom and Dad grew in their garden although they are much closer to the ground. 

This little yellow flower is new to me. My neighbor Debbie told me about them in the cemetery on East Hill. I'm not sure what they are called (do you?) but they are so delicate and have mottled leaves.

This whitish-green flower was next to the trilliums. It was so elegant. I don't know its name either. I'm hoping one of my readers might know. 

The Virginia Bluebells in my garden are almost done. 

The flowering quince is one of my favorite spring flowering shrubs. Love the color.

I hope you get a chance to enjoy the wildflowers where you live.

Here are the wild puppies Beau and Sadie rolling around on their still favorite moss. Giant puppies. 

We've got a new litter of kittens. Here is Spunky.

Here is Spot. I'm looking for homes for both of them if you are in the market for a farm-raised kitten with good hunting instinct. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Have You Heard? + Early Bird Sign-Up Extended + The Prom

...... The world is changing. Yes it is. Not that it hasn't changed every year since it began - right? Last week I was listening to NPR's Marketplace towards the end of the week. They were talking about the retail landscape out there today and how business is changing for the big chains like Macy's, The Gap, Target, and more. Evidently those stocks had sunk in value that week due to poor sales. The experts were talking about the retail marketplace and the "new" consumer. I am fascinated by business cycles and I really enjoy shows like Marketplace and PBS News. I like to follow business and trends - it has always been a part of what I like to learn and know. 

In 2009, I had the brilliant idea to start teaching knitting retreats here at our farm. Here and here are blog posts from the very first year. That was pre-studio space, pre-Farmers Market biz. I had to be nuts inviting strangers into our home but I wanted to offer my teaching from my home base so that I didn't have to leave Julia and Mark and could still bring in some income. And besides, knitters are nice people and my friends helped. 

What I didn't realize when I was beginning these classes in 2009 was that I was part of the trend and business cycle. My theory on this now is that people are looking to spend their disposable income more on experiences rather on buying things and that is why these big retailers are having trouble. Oh yeah - and on-line sales - that too. After the financial crisis of 2008 and our so-called recovery, I think people are looking more for learning experiences rather than things. My classes right here at our farm fit right into that zeitgeist. 

I've run these classes every year since 2009 with varying degrees of success. Don't get me wrong - the classes are always a success just maybe not financially for me. It takes a very special person - an adventurer and someone not fearful of stepping into the unknown - to sign up and venture to the hinterlands of western Mass. We all have a blast - everyone learns a lot - including me. The really great thing is students that make the trip often come back a second time for another round of classes. I get to share so much more than I ever could pack into a car and bring to a hotel room. 

I've always been a little ahead of the curves on trends. I act on instincts and don't do good at going with what everyone else is doing now. I think my "Classes At The Farm" were part of me anticipating a trend. Lots of times I am too early and projects/books fail. If I have failure, I frequently give up and move on to my next great idea. The Class Thing though - here at the farm - I have continued it and this year we are in our 7th year. It still isn't hugely profitable or successful but it fits in with what I enjoy and love - color, creativity, wonderful women who enjoy making and using their hands and stretching their minds. (Seriously, I'm sorry to be so long winded - must be why I never caught on with the 140 character Twitter world). 

Now the competition for students is huge! When I started, there was no VKLive, no Interweave Camp, no Squam Retreat. There was however Meg's Knitting Camp - the grandmother of all these knitting events. And places like Snow FarmPenland SchoolFletcher Farm School. How do students pick which retreat to attend? How do they find me? How much $ and time do students have. I guess if you are reading this, you have found me. 

All of this to say, I've extended the Early Bird Pricing on the "Getting Stitched on the Farm" 2016 classes until May 31st. So, if you are wanting to come, hop on over to my website. The first class July 16/17 - Color, Fabric Printing + Lampshade Painting only has 2 openings left. A little more space on the other two July 30/31 Color, Fabric Printing and Embroidery and September 24/25 Color, Knitting, Crochet + Embroidery. Learn more on my website here

And if you can't swing 2 days, there are options for only taking the first Saturday segment of all the classes. Have a question, send it on - kristinnicholas AT gmail DOT com. Hope to see some of you on the farm

Now that you have gotten to the end - here's a photo of Julia from her night at the Prom. Thank you Aunt Debbie for doing the hair and nails and borrowing of the scarf. She had a great time and danced all night! 

Thank you Missy for the corsage of lilacs and lily of the valley. Thank you cousin Olivia for the hand-me-down dress. Thank you Mum for the shoes. Here she is with her Dad behind the sheep barns because he was still doing chores. It takes a village to send a kid to the prom. (I was working the Webs Tent Sale that day and only got home towards the end of the Aunt Debbie pampering day.) 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Colorful Inspiration from the Brimfield Fleas

Had a great day at Brimfield on Friday. Got up early and was on the road by 6:30 a.m. Pulled into Brimfield at the J&J Market around 8 - and just past the crowds that were waiting to get in when it opened. The first market of the year is always the best I feel. Dealers have had a winter to stock up on stuff. J & J is the most high end field and is only open on Friday and Saturday. 

I wasn't in the market for much - just inspiration. That's what I love about Brimfield - you can bring barely any money and still have a good time. Parking is $10 - sometimes $5  and entrance to J & J is $5. After that, it's up to you what you spend. There are things at all prices beginning with $1.00. I met up with my sister Laurie, niece Olivia and friend Clara for a mid-morning lunch and to compare finds. Then after lunch, I headed off to the other fields that still had plenty of stuff. The other fields are free. I like to shop the market alone so I can stop when I want and not worry about anyone else. It's a day all to myself. I was done by 1:30 and home in time to see Julia in the afternoon. 

Last year I discovered that if I took pictures of things I loved, I had no interest in purchasing them. Dealers used to be a little miffed when you took pictures but now that cell phones are so prevalent, no one seems to care. 

So here are the things that inspired me - you might see some of the motifs and ideas in upcoming projects in my new book. 

Gorgeous beaded bag with a zipper. Love the colors.

Some kind of woven textile. Nice pattern.

A painted wallhanging of a phoenix.

From the 1920's Appliqued fabrics combined with embroidery.  
Pretty quilt. Like the colors. 

Hooked rug. Nice pattern with the diamonds and the flowers.

This motif was simple and nice. I think I have knit it before. 
Not sure about this rug. Looked knitted but how could it be? Motif above too. 

A Rosenthal rainbow vase. So 70's.

Wacky handpainted drum?

This pattern was on a tray from the 70's. Like the graphic flowers.

Love this bird majolica plate. They were putting birds on it back then too. 

Woven floral blanket. 

Loved this "Puzzle Jug" from the 1800's in Britain.

Liked the delicate floral design.

Italian glass lamp. Love the colors. 

Gorgeous quilt. What work. 
The next Brimfield Market is in July and then the last for the year is in September. It's worth a trip if you are into such things. People come from all over the world - it is amazing the languages you hear. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Colorful Creativity, The Farmer + Lucky Me

A few days ago I received a lovely email from a reader who discovered me through my latest book. Here's what she said.....

Hi Kristin - just to let you know you are inspiring me! a few years back we purchased a house to DIY on a lake up in northern michigan - long story short the house was hit by a car and had to be demolished and we started over. we had a blank slate -  i knew i wanted to decorate it in brighter colors than i had my home - i wanted Happy!  and eclectic - relaxing. i bravely painted the main floor mostly a lemon/lime green with a bright orange kitchen. it has been the beginning of a new journey for me :)

i found the video of your home randomly online and went to your website - purchased 1 of your books, recently ordered 2 more. i need to be pushed out of my box and i love that you are constantly encouraging people to do their own thing - not simply do what YOU do - although, i must confess to almost following the circles pillow verbatim... however, not again! LOL!! all that to say  - THANK YOU!

i read this today, written by an author speaking to another author, a teenager just beginning to believe she can write - "Thank you, thank you for writing, for taking the time and spirit and soul to write, because i love to read. And keep going, even when people make you feel like it's not that important. It might be the most important thing you do. Keep going."

Thank you Kristin for encouraging me - keep doing what you were created to do.   Ruth

I am putting this here not to toot my own horn today (as my Mom would say). I thought it would be a great way to start a new dialog here on the blog. Creativity and making is something I think about all the time and I'm happy that I am helping Ruth explore more of her own in her home. 

First off, I want to give a shout-out to my husband Mark (aka The Farmer) who is having a birthday today. Last year just around this time, the orchard in front of our farmhouse started to bloom. We barely had time to notice because the film crew from Houzz was here and we were all knee deep in that new experience of drones flying over our house and sheep and dogs and all that comes with a film crew. 

Mark is a busy guy running from one place to another checking on his sheep, keeping food in front of them and all there is to do with raising sheep and lambs. The last thing he wanted to do was be interviewed and filmed but he knew that the video would create new opportunities for us. Rick, the producer, wanted the sheep and dogs in the video. They had to fly the drone twice over two days over the sheep to get the perfect shot of Farmer, dogs and sheep. 

Then Rick wanted to ask Mark questions. I stayed out of the way and really didn't know what was being filmed. It wasn't until I saw the finished 7 minute video a couple of months later that I heard what he said. 

Go to minute 3:03 and you will see what I am getting at. The first time I listened I cried. I am a very lucky woman. 

Why am I writing all this. The thing is, I go to quite a few different events and farmers markets where I pimp my book Crafting A Colorful Home (my book on creativity, interior decorating, craft and color). I talk to a lot of people about the book and color and making. I have been astounded by the number of women who tell me that their husbands would never let them decorate their homes the way that I have done. 

I guess I married right for me. I cannot imagine making my home without expressing my creativity. I cannot imagine painting my home a color I don't like -- to be safe and worry about re-sale. I cannot imagine living in a relationship where I was being told that my creative ideas didn't matter or that I was stupid or that my creativity wasn't important or appreciated.  

Our marriage has always been a pretty equal thing. We each have our places where we are "in charge." Over the years, mine has been the kitchen and the home. When we were first married, I thought everything should be equal. I was and am a feminist as Mark and Julia are. I felt we should start out the house chores equally - you know - take turns cooking, laundry, vacuuming, cleaning, taking out the trash. That worked for a short while until I realized that he wasn't a very good cook - I got a bit sick of hot dogs, eggs, and spaghetti the 3 meals Mark specializes in. Shrunken cashmere sweaters coming out of the drier gave me the realization that I had better take charge of that department too. We worked it out over the years and it seems to work - although by no means is everything perfect around here. 

In the beginning of our marriage as we were building our home together, I tried to get Mark's opinion on colors and decor. The guy has incredibly good taste and I have been the recipient over the years of many gorgeous antiques, porcelain, copper pots, and more. But he never told me what I should do in our home and I guess I can say that I am so grateful for that. He always told me to do what I wanted. I have been able to express my own style and opinions in the world of home decor. And he loves it when it gets done. Even if we all go through a bit of chaos and mess along the way. 

You might be wondering why I am writing this all here. It's something I have been thinking about for a long time. The letter I got from Ruth above and the letter I got from Ria in the Netherlands the other day made me think that I should start a dialog here on the blog - more about creativity and where I get my ideas and how I design and make and do things. Here is Ria's letter.....

Hi Kristin - To begin with, I want to tell you how happy I am with your book " Crafting a colorful Home".
I ordered it a week ago (here in the Netherlands) and it arrived on Saturday.
To see all these colors, in the book, at your blog and in the video make me feel so happy.
When I was younger, I loved only natural colors, say: beige, grey, brown.
But, by growing older,  I'm 71 now, I learned to appreciate bright colors.
And my hope is, the years that the Dear Lord grants me, to craft my home as colorful as possible.
So, thank you very much for sharing your talents with people all over the word.
Have a wonderful day,
Ria (living in Valkenburg, an old town in de very southern part of the Netherlands)

This morning, I went out early to take photos of the orchard that is just beginning to bloom. 

It is doing it again, just like it did last year and the year before. Spring is a wonderful time of year to be outside noticing, walking, breathing it all in. I've heard older people say they wonder how many springs they have left. I never really thought about that until a couple years ago when I started thinking about getting older. I hope I have a lot of springs left because it is just beyond incredible. 

The ewes were grazing and it was just the prettiest morning. The sky was blue and it wasn't hot yet. As I traipsed around the field, switching lenses, making funny noises so the sheep would look at me, noticing things that had changed in the past couple days as the sun is shining longer each day and the heat is making things grow and bloom, I couldn't help but feel thankful for the man I have been fortunate enough to have met back in 1979 and shared my life with and to have as the father of our daughter Julia. And the sheep - he brought the sheep into my life and cares so well for them. 

There are so many fantastic creative things going on in this world right now. I hope that I can remain a part of your creative corner of your soul and life as I continue to write and blog and photograph here on this blog. I hope I can continue to be a sunny part of your day and maybe help you to add more color and spice and pattern to your life and interior space.  

Tomorrow I am on my way to Brimfield to the first flea market of the year (there are 2 more - in July and September). I can't wait to see what I see and find. I hope I will find things that I can use in my next book and in our home -- things that will become patterns or things that are patterned. Or things that I take photos of and remember and then incorporate into an idea for a pattern that I make and do. The thrill of the hunt is really quite fun. 

On Saturday, I will be at Webs at their Annual Tent Sale. Stop by and say hi if you are going. I'm going to be next to The Bistro Bus, close to the front door.  I'll have our lamb meat with us - it will be frozen if you want to take some home. I'll have my books and some other things. I would love to meet you. 

And if you have a husband or partner who doesn't let you paint and use color in your home, show them the video at 3:03 and tell them that they need to start loosening up their mind and let a little creativity into their space and life. Or maybe it is you who is too fearful of choosing the right color and mucking it up. Picking colors and designing a space is a scary proposition. It is much easier to go with all white or just how they are showing it in catalogs and magazines. Putting yourself into a project personally means that you might fail and it might be a mess and it might have to be redone. But doing it yourself, adding color and your personality and choices will make you feel much better than just following the crowd. You will be so proud of yourself and feel better and start to look at the world in a different way. 

Lastly, if you want to learn about how to be more creative and colorful in your life and craft, you can come to a retreat here at our farm. I have early bird pricing until May 15th. Three different weekends of classes - check it out here. As Richard Branson says "Screw it, just do it."