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The Crop Report Week 42 | Working With Divas

The dahlias are in full glory, which you already know if you've seen our social media lately. But I finally learned my lesson: you should take just as many notes as you do pictures. I spent years snapping hundreds of photos until frost turned these delicate flowers into brown mush, and would find myself scratching my head to recall which variety a tuber clump produced. Without the colorful blooms, they all look the same.

When we planted our dahlia field this year, we used small row hoops (the same ones we use to keep frost blankets over crops during winter) to divide each section of varieties. We marked flagging tape, documented the varieties on a map, and then waited for the blooms to come.

As the season comes to a close, we are changing up our playbook with plans to overwinter this crop in the ground. Before that can happen, we had to circle back to our planting map to ensure it’s correct and make follow-up notes.  

On Sunday, with a field full of blooms and the kids occupied by Disney+, I cataloged the dahlia crop. I started at the top of each row, checking the label on the hoops and making notes about how well the variety produced, if we liked it, whether it worked for customers, and included a photo. A few hours later, I had all the dahlia rows completed. 

Now that I have my crop notes, I will compare them to the spring planting notes and figure out if we had any documenting missteps. A few varieties lost the label on the hoops, but with the majority documented, it will be easy to narrow down the rogue varieties. We will relabel each of those hoops to carry us through winter and are flagging each plant that isn’t in the correct variety group. These few random plants will be popped out and are the only ones we’re taking out of the ground this year.

We will be flagging the spots in a row that died off and making notes of these areas in our field map. Once the last flags and labels are in the field, we’ll start winterizing the dahlias. Although we could cut the field down before frost takes out this crop, I just can't bring myself to do it. I want to enjoy every last bloom in this field, so we’ll leave our dahlias until nature calls them home for the season.

Once the colorful field of blooms becomes a brown mushy dumpster fire, we close it up for the season. The support posts and corralling barriers will be removed, and the remaining debris will be cut and composted, leaving only stalk numbers and hoops with labels. The rows will be topped with local hay and stray (the leftovers that the picky cattle and sheep won’t eat) from local farmers as well as frost blankets. We have spent many seasons digging and dividing the tubers to replant in the spring, but are hoping with the new field location this year, they will be protected enough to survive our Virginia winters.  

We will be expanding the dahlia field by a few rows so it's impressive next season when we're open to the public. I will order tubers to fill in empty spaces, increase the plot, and account for winter loss. We may end up with extra tubers next spring but that will be fine because we can offer them to you! Will you come to see the dahlia field? Do you want to grow with us? 

- xoxo, Jess

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