Friday, November 7, 2008

I Dig Dahlias

Yesterday I finished the week-long task of digging and storing my dahlia tubers, which is a good thing since morning light revealed our first snowfall of the year. There are lots of spiffy tutorials on-line with instructions, but I thought I'd document my process (and progress):

First I dig the tubers clumps, being careful to dig at a diameter that tubers won't be sliced by the spade. (Most gardeners use a garden fork, but I'm cheap and have a spade, so I use the spade):

I spray down the clumps with the garden hose, and then take them inside to divide them:

Each tuber must have an eye (like a potato) to be viable. The eyes are usually located on the ridge where the tuber joins the stem, and dividing them can be anything from soothing to maddening depending on how each clump develops. I use a bypass pruner, an old kitchen knife and an exacto knife, primarily. Tubers with thin necks are iffy, as they're more susceptible to rot, breakage and drying out, but sometimes you've gotta take what you can get and hope for the best-lol! The "mother" tuber (original tuber planted) will look darker/older and most of the time will not produce a plant next year, so I discard it along with tubers that don't have eyes (some dahlia enthusiasts use the mother tuber to take cuttings from the following spring.) I trim all excess material from the tuber, including roots and "rat tails" at the ends to discourage rot. Here's a close-up of tubers that have "eyed-up":

Watch out! Scary big-eyed tubers comin' atcha!

I soak the tubers in a mixture of one cup bleach per three gallons of water for 15-20 minutes to kill any fungus or creepie-crawlies. ( You can coat them with sulfur powder or another fungicide, but again, I'm cheap and use what's on hand!) Also if you use reasonably warm water and leave the water in the sink an extra 40 minutes or so, you've just completed the first step of Shiny Sink 1o1! Multi-task, baby!

Then I lay them out to dry for several hours before bagging them (2-3 cups of vermiculite and 5-8 tubers per gallon zip-lock) or wrapping them in saran wrap (I use both methods). Bags go into a cardboard box that's been lined with newspaper and the box is then placed into storage (anywhere cool and dark between 40 and 50 degrees is good. A fridge works great if you have an extra one as long as you don't store produce in it as well. I don't (have an extra fridge) and so use the storage closet in our art room, which gets quite cool, but doesn't freeze.

This was the last of them, white waterlily dahlias that were my least favorite this year, as they don't hold a candle to my favorite white-a dinnerplate dahlia from Lynch Creek Farm. I'm storing them anyway to give to my sister to jazz up her veggie garden.

The experts say that you should check on the tubers monthly to remove any that are beginning to rot, and to mist with a little water if they're beginning to shrivel. I say, "Faggedaboudit! Live or don't!" and enjoy the holidays and winter-time pursuits until the first week in March, when I will pull my box from storage and plant them indoors under lights March 15th to give my 2009 dahlias a head start!