Swenson Gardens

Growing Peonies that don't flop

2016 Website Update

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Oh to be taking a snooze in the peony field like one of our cats Panda, Panda Bear…aka Toby. I’m afraid the only way we would be able to see him in the peony field now is casting his black coloring against the SNOW! Maybe 4″ on the ground as we are way below normal snowfall for this time of the year. Reminds me somewhat of last year except no below 0 F temps as of today. As I get wiser, not older of course, I’m okay with warmer temps in the winter for this cycle, but I LOVE snow. Yes dear gardening friends winter is my second favorite season. Spring is still my favorite but we have a few months to go!

Updating a new design for our website is a lengthy process. We were presented the new ‘look’ yesterday from our designer and the consensus is WOW…again!  She has been with us since the beginning and knows us and more importantly you! We are amazed at her eye for detail, yet ease of use on compute and yes for this year, mobile. The 4,000+ original pictures are now down to a mere 1,000 or so. My guess as of today is by the end of January for launch date but stay tuned to the blog and Facebook for real time updates as we get closer to launching. One of the exciting factors in launching every year is the number of new varieties we will be offering. Well for our bloggers, 52 new varieties will be forthcoming! This is the largest number of new varieties we have ever offered!

Though our peonies are dormant in the fields, we certainly have not been dormant preparing to launch SwensonGardens.com new peony website!

Peony field jottings…Final Part 5

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So where was Mr Mischief, Mr Stinker, Mr Cheese aka ‘Redd’ during our peony mulching? Becky caught up to him with ANOTHER glove! Geez this guy loves to steal gloves, shoes and hats. We went through our glove supply and have way too many different types of gloves…for one stinking hand!

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Becky asked Redd how he likes mulching peonies?

Peony field jottings…Part 4

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What does round bailing cornstalk bales have to do with peonies? (Oh by the way, Danny does get to drive the tractor too! He is a master at round bailing alfalfa, grass and cornstalks!) We use cornstalk bales to mulch our peonies after the ground freezes. Mulching should only be done on newly planted peonies in USDA Zones 2-5 and does not need to be done in USDA Zones 6-8. This is mainly done to prevent heaving of the roots during freeze and thaw periods. Two years ago we would load the bales on to our trailer and then use pitchforks to spread over the rows. This was a 3 to 4 day adventure in snow storms, sleet, high wind and maybe a sunny day or two. Needless to say it was not fun for a crew of 4 to 5 people. There had to be a better way to mulch peonies…

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After some research, along came an attachment called a Bale Buster! These are normally used along side roads to spread straw over newly planted grass, chopping up bedding for cattle and also to feed cattle in the fields. Well will it work on peonies? Simply marvelous! Now our mulching is down to hours instead of days! There is some manual labor involved but its only to tidy up the rows. This is the second year using this equipment and cannot be thankful enough! There is still the labor of climbing up the ladder into the tractor, getting cold once I step out of the heated cab and oh yes, still no Blizzard to speak of other than mulching during a blizzard a few years ago. That episode went into the night as we had to get it done before the 14″ of snow would have prevented any mulching! Growing peonies in snow in the north…got to love it…I guess! In the background you will see the change that took place in our east field. Yes for Peony Field Days 2016 that field is no more other than a few leftovers. Our goal over the last three years was to get out of that field and move the peonies to better soil knowing what is available in other areas on our farm. Sad to see that field go but with growth comes change. Peony Field Days will be held in our west field with parking adjacent to that field.

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The final step in putting the peonies to sleep for the winter! Thank you to all our gardening friends who allowed us to grow, nurture and protect your peonies in 2015! 2016 will be an exciting year of growth and varieties available for sale online, mail order and Peony Field Days!

Peony field jottings…Part 3

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Where has all the alfalfa gone? As I mentioned in previous post, this field is getting ready for new peonies! Composted cow manure and our secret peony starter fertilizer was spread first on top of the alfalfa. Then within the hour i had to work really hard climbing up into the tractor in order to plow the field. (Nobody bought me a Blizzard after I worked so hard!) This tractor has been a Godsend to our peony farm. Large enough to handle all our attachments, field work; yet small enough to fit between the peony rows. The problem with applying any fertilizer topographically is the fact that most nutrients leach out before any beneficial nutrients can amend into the soil. Take care of the soil and who cares what you do above the ground! I’ve never understood why crop farmers add manure in late fall and winter when the ground is frozen? By the time the manure is worked into the soil in the spring, all nutrients have leached out and sterilized sitting on top of the ground. My dad always told me when he was farming that the sooner you can work the manure into the ground the better for the soil. Thanks dad as that now bodes well for preparing our peony propagation fields.  Back to this field, in the think SPRING we add another round of fertilizer and then disk harrow it. For home gardeners, if you add any fertilizer to gardens, perennials, shrubs and trees, make sure to work it into the soil. Don’t just spread it around on top of the soil. Peonies especially will not benefit from topographic applications. (Footnote DO NOT use fertilizers you spray on to the foliage!) You are wasting money! Instead next July, take a 15″ long drain tile spade and step it into the ground as far as far as you can at the drip line of your peony. With spade in the ground, pull it back towards you, pour 1/2 cup of Milorganite in the space provided by the shovel blade and water it in. Take the shovel out of the ground and tamp the soil down. PLEASE NOTE, YOU DO NOT NEED TO DO THIS IF YOU HAVE PLANTED PEONIES THE SWENSON GARDENS WAY! Only do this if you have other peonies that are at least three years old that were not planted the Swenson Gardens way!

You know, I think I’m going to get a Blizzard tonight and celebrate plowing this peony field!

Peony field jottings…Part 2

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How do you transfer a few thousand peony roots to the propagation fields? At our scale, every bare root peony is tagged, contained in plastic tubs, alphabetized and transported on a trailer to the fields. Yes this is very time consuming but we want to make sure that every bare root peonies are labeled correctly. Dan S in this picture has been with us since we started in 2002. Over the years we LOVE Dan S and he has been an integral part in all phases of Swenson Gardens. I’ll never forget one of our first years when we transported all the peony plants to his home to wash them. At the time we lived on a city lot and the previous year we washed them there but our small back yard turned into a mud pit. Thanks Dan S for allowing us that year to muddy up your rural yard. Now that we are on a farm, mud is ok! Dan S is still helping out with the processing, shipping and planting of peonies. His attention to detail is greatly appreciated especially with our international orders that need to be free of all soil. Thanks again Dan S and look forward to seeing you again next year!

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Yikes! Now what? With a few hundred tubs of peonies how do you keep track of every one? Cara would you be interested in organizing the field maps? Her answer was confidently ‘YES’! Cara has been with us four years now and each year she surprises us with her gifts and talents. This fall her organizational skills really shined during planting time. Each row is carefully mapped out so the transfer to Excel spreadsheets was seamless. Whenever anything needed organizing…Cara? ‘Yes I’ll do it!’ Thanks Cara for being detailed! You can never have enough backups to backups at this scale.

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So how do you fit a few hundred tubs of multiple quantities in each row making sure they are also alphabetized? During this time of planting I’ve found it best to just stay away from Danny! In picture Danny, (on left) is mapping out the row for whatever variety comes his way in the tubs…alphabetically! I’ll never forget the year he took over the layout of the fields. It just so happened to coincide with the purchase of Roger Anderson’s seedlings. Now was that planned right or what? Leaving early one morning to travel 7 hours east to Roger’s house, load a few thousand peonies (thanks Roger for your digging crew) and then traveled 7 hours west to our farm. Then divide, process and organize three separate fields a few days later. No wonder he was interesting to be around as he mapped out 3,300 roots. I didn’t think he would come back after that year as he was the one to make sure all roots were labeled and alphabetized in the fields. Since then that’s the only way we will put a bare root peony in the ground! Thanks Danny for changing our planting ways! Danny’s responsibilities continue to expand. Besides heading up the digging and planting crew, his hybridizing skills are world class! With Roger Anderson as his mentor, I can’t wait for the next generation of Roger’s seedlings, let alone Danny’s seedlings! Be patient gardening friends as new varieties come from us in a few years!

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Yes we touch and place EVERY bare root peony in the rows! Again very time consuming, but we want to make sure that each and every one of our peonies are planted at the correct eye to ground level location. At this scale, additional manual labor is warranted. Once the roots are set, rows are covered, marked and then, yes, a large Blizzard and fixin’s are deservedly paid for by yours truly at Dairy Queen! Yes planting 1,500 peonies this fall has its perks!

Peony field jottings….Part 1

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What happened to our Peony Field Days parking lot? Little did you know that this parking lot was actually getting ready to grow an amass of new peonies. This area was planned three years ago for propagation. Our process for propagation fields begins with alfalfa (of course which is then used to feed our cattle) which in turn provide the manure to put back in the propagation fields. Funny how that works but we are SO blessed to be able to do this in a large scale. We’re not talking fresh manure either! The manure is composted over one winter to kill any weed seeds. NEVER put fresh, stinky manure in your gardens or landscape! The beauty of properly prepared composted cow manure is the fact that it doesn’t stink! Multiple applications of composted cow manure were added to this field before we plowed it under last year. A couple other ‘organic high brix’ secrets are also amended into this field. In our test fields we were amazed at the growth in 2 and 3 years. This same mixture is contained in our peony starter fertilizer on a smaller scale. But for those of you who have purchased this from us, you can now say you are growing ‘organic high brix’ peonies! Of course that is only true if you do not use any chemicals after the fact and your planting site was fallow for 5-years after the last chemical application. Friends, you do not need CHEMICALS to grow and maintain peonies! At the scale we are propagating peonies, if we can do it on thousands of peonies, please, please consider this in your gardens and landscapes! Ok I’ll get off my soapbox…

Back to our new peony field, the final field prep in the picture above is to fluff up the soil before planting by roto tilling. This allows the soil to settle in nicely around the new roots. Once the final tilling is done, we are set to make the furrows and plant. See next peony field jottings post.

Swenson Gardens peony videos coming in 2016

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For those of you/us who are visual learners, 2016 will launch many ‘how to’ videos on peonies. Needless to say we and for sure you, should be excited about this. An energetic young man, Ben, informed us that he has an interest in video photography and editing. Well Ben you have found the right place! Ben has been with us for three years and honored to have him take this important piece over. The goal at Swenson Gardens is foremost to educate gardeners on the joy of peonies in our landscapes. Stay tuned as this ‘how to plant peonies’ video will launch with our 2016 website.

2016 Website Update

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Greetings peony gardening friends! Been a VERY busy fall (now almost winter) here on our peony farm. All is well and in next few posts will give you a pictorial on what takes place as we closed out the fields for 2015. The updates to our website are in process. We are thinking sometime in January and will post once we get closer. In the mean time, please be patient like are dear peonies are doing awaiting the new season.

The Peonies are almost on the way!

BoxesinCoolerShip2All the final shipments of peonies are packed, labeled and ready to leave our peony farm this morning! Its sad for us as this is the last shipment for 2015 but it is also great that your peonies will be on their way shortly. We have enjoyed growing these for you, nurturing them, maintaining them, digging them and now SHIPPING them. Most of you have already received tracking info from USPS Priority Mail so once they are delivered to the Post Office, please follow their tracking info as you are looking at the same info as us. On receipt of your package, open immediately and store in a cool, dark spot (not a refrigerator) until you are ready to plant them. How long before you should plant? The sooner the better! IF you cannot plant within a few days after receiving, mist the sphagnum moss with water to make sure the roots stay hydrated and again, PLANT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! Please, please do not let them sit in the box until next spring! We try very hard to ship the largest, plumpest and freshest roots in this market so the sooner to plant them, the better for your new peonies! Enjoy your Swenson Gardens bare root peonies and happy gardening…and planting!

The Peonies are almost ready to ship!

We have been beyond busy preparing your peony orders the past couple of weeks. We lost the better part of the week of September 21st to rain outs and MUD. All orders have now been picked. We are awaiting final shipping labels from USPS Priority Mail so they should go to our Post Office today or tomorrow. USPS Priority Mail will send out tracking information to all ‘good’ emails once they are delivered to our Post Office. The ‘Swenson Gardens Packing Slips’ are not the tracking information. Those are just for your records as you may have received them automatically.  Hang in there peony gardeners and happy planting soon!