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Notes from Up North, February 2018

Well, another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again for households across the country to receive their Cates Family Glads annual mailer.

“But wait!” you might be thinking. “Doesn’t Cates Family Glads usually send out a bifold catalog instead of a packet comprising a few pages?”

And you’d be right! However, due to an amalgamation of environmental factors, last year’s growing season was a rough one in Central Maine — a very rough one. There was wind. There was rain. There was drought. There were bugs. There were weeds. And though we fought valiantly, we pride ourselves on being picky about the quality of bulbs that we offer to our customers, and some of our mature stock just didn’t make the cut.

Because we’re picky about quality, our bulbs weren’t fully cleaned and sorted until mid-January. Inventory was a relatively quick process… but then, disaster struck again in the form of a corrupted system driver on Margaret’s computer, which hobbled her ability to do anything beyond threatening to throw the laptop out the third-story window at the farm during the several weeks it took to diagnose, troubleshoot, and repair it. (We were contemplating just photocopying our handwritten list of varieties at one point to speed up the process.)

With all that in mind, instead of our usual catalog, this year we’re going back to our roots and offering a humble price list to our loyal customer base. We’re full of hope that in 2018 Mother Nature will look more kindly upon our farm in East Vassalboro and grant us just the right kind of weather to rebuild our collection from last year’s bulblets and planting stock.

Despite our struggles with the elements in 2017, we do have some good news! Gracing our cover page and our listing this year is 75th Anniversary, a gorgeous royal purple gem of a glad that was introduced in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Canadian Gladiolus Society. Another beautiful addition to our listing in the same color family is King Solomon, which we haven’t had available since 2012.

The world is changing, in and outside of our glad patches. Technology has connected us in ways that we’ve never been. Technology made it possible (after a bit of a delay) for us to produce this catalog and the website on which our price list lives. It lets us communicate with our customers and other glad fans on social media, helps us organize events, and keeps us up to date on weather conditions and markets. There’ve been innovations in farm equipment, crop rotation, fertilizers, and irrigation.

But there’s one thing that technology can’t outshine… and that’s the beauty of a glad field in East Vassalboro, bursting with color in mid-summer.

On behalf of Paul, Elisabeth, and the rest of the Cateses of Cates Family Glads, we wish you all a colorful 2018, with hope for just enough rain to make your glad patch the star of your neighborhood.

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Notes from Up North, January 2017

It’s cold and icy in East Vassalboro, and our minds are on what the coming summer will bring us. 

2016 was dry. Very dry. We got our planting done in record time, and then experienced nearly an entire month without a drop of rain. As you can imagine, many of our varieties objected to this kind of treatment, and as a result some simply didn’t grow. We lost 35 varieties of mature bulbs to the drought. 

However! We didn’t lose those varieties entirely. We had a great harvest from bulblets last year, despite the drought. We’ll be restocking some of those temporarily missing varieties in next year’s catalog. Those bulblets really saved our skins! 

We’re really looking forward to 2017’s crop, since the bulblets not only saved several mature varieties, but introduced some new trial varieties (as well as some old timers we’d phased out of our commercial grow before we began this catalog). Expect to see some new or returning faces in upcoming listings. 

Returning to this year’s list is a Cates Family Glads favorite, True Love. This robust pink-salmon glad has stood the test of time (and drought) and remains healthy and gorgeous. 

We’ll also be promoting something a little different in 2017 — our daughter Helen and her husband will be selling organic, Maine-grown table and seed garlic this summer. If you’re a foodie (or trying to stave off some vampires), keep an eye out on our website and Facebook page for garlic harvest season! We’ve also added a line to our order form so you can indicate whether you’re interested in receiving more information closer to the garlic harvest. 

Whether it’s glads or garlic, we wish you a fantastic 2017 growing season. May it be wetter than the last! 

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Notes from Up North, January 2016

Happy 2016 from the snowy village of East Vassalboro! 

We’re thinking back to last summer — it was a hot one! We had visitors from out-of-state during midsummer; daughter Dorothee and her children came to stay for several weeks. Our house was often full of family, children and grandchildren alike! A surprise “165th” combined birthday party for us at the Vassalboro Grange Hall was the highlight of our summer. 

Despite the heat, the growing season was decent. We were able to restock a few varieties that have been absent from our listing in recent years, and we’re testing out a lot of new (to us) varieties in our “special” glad field that’s reserved for varieties of which we have fewer than 20 bulbs. Some of those varieties may be present in our 2017 catalog. 

In lieu of new introductions, this year we’d like to feature two of our old favorites. These are glads that have truly stood the test of time, surviving the decades with impeccable health. 

Atom is a small, very cute medium red glad with a narrow white halo around the petals. This 1946 introduction is one of the oldest, healthiest glads in our collection. 

Early Highlight, introduced in 1973, is very appropriately named! This bicolored, orange and yellow miniature has been the top of any listing of glads ranked by earliness since its introduction. It’s the sign we wait for every year, because once Early Highlight blooms, glad season is here! 

This year’s special was inspired by a glad which, sadly, is absent from our 2016 listing. Baker’s Dozen, one of our most successful “parent” glads for hybridization, is in a restocking year and we hope to have it back in the catalog in 2017. In its honor, we’re running a Baker’s Dozen Special: buy stock of any twelve varieties and we will provide you with bulbs of a thirteenth (our choice) for free! 

With hopes for a beautiful, weed-free glad-growing season, 

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Notes from Up North, January 2015

Warm greetings from a cold and windy East Vassalboro, ME! 

The summer of 2014 had mild weather with occasional rain. The weeds were prolific and healthy! Our beef cows got a lot of “weed salad.” For health reasons (knee replacement, etc., etc.) I was out of the glad field for most of 2014, but I was hardly missed. Our extended family, organized by son Chris, brought order into the glad field, both in weeding season and during bulb harvesting. 

The low point of last season came one dark, late summer night when Elisabeth and I were stranded in the back field with a pickup truck full of bulbs. The truck lights didn’t work; the truck wouldn’t start. Finally, we stumbled down the farm road, past the small creek. It’s a wonder we didn’t fall in! As is often the case, it was “Chris to the rescue!” He jumpstarted the truck and brought the bulbs down to safe, temporary storage in our greenhouse. 

Chris’s contribution continued through drying and cleaning time, until the bulbs were safely in winter storage — where he then took inventory for our catalog. Daughter Margaret also made major contributions. She was in the glad field almost every weekend this summer, taking pictures for our Facebook page, website, and 2015 catalog (which, at the time of this note, she was in the process of producing). 

This year’s catalog marks the return of some heirloom favorites, two new introductions, and the addition of some stunning Eastern European cultivars. 

To celebrate our 45th anniversary, we are offering an “early bird special” to our bulb customers. For all orders with a subtotal of $45 or higher which are postmarked on or before March 15th, take 10% off the cost of bulbs before tax and shipping. (Note: sales tax is required for Maine residents only.) 

Wishing you a beautiful growing season, 

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Notes from Up North, January 2014

2013 was a good year for glads. There was enough rain to keep them growing. A series of 90 degree days in July was short enough to do no damage. 

Despite Elisabeth and Margaret being in a bank when it was robbed… despite Paul getting a leg injury in a freak accident, an injury which required 3½ months of elevation-type recuperation… we had a good season and have harvested an excellent crop of glad bulbs. 

We’re preparing our catalog, which will include most varieties from the 2013 book, plus a new introduction and several interesting re-introductions. This is a stock-rebuilding year for several Cates favorites, but if there’s a variety that has been listed in the past that you’d been hoping to get your hands on in 2014, give us a call — we may have a few bulbs in that we could spare. 

I’m cutting this short to focus on catalog preparation. (Your reading this is evidence that we succeeded.) 

Greetings to all our glad friends, and happy growing! 

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Notes from Up North, January 2013

Hello from the warm Cates kitchen in East Vassalboro, 

We finished planting our glad bulbs on May 31st, the earliest date ever. This was largely due to the presence of Elisabeth’s 16-year-old German nephew Friedrich (Freddy), who said when he arrived, “I’m here to help you, not to do touristy things!” 

As usual, we said in 2012 that we would have to cut back — and, of course, we wound up with perhaps 50 more varieties of glads than we’d had in 2011. 

July was hot and dry. Our son Chris, always concerned for his aging parents, often said, “Dad, you aren’t working outside in the heat today.” (Our daughter Margaret established a rule whereby I wasn’t allowed to work in temperatures that were higher than my age minus five.) Well, I may be aging, but I don’t give up easily. The solution: up at 5 AM, in the field at 5:30, about three hours of weeding in the cool of the morning. I came down from the field with muddy hands, realizing that the heavy morning dew was saving the glads from serious heat damage. A new flame weeder was also a help in weed control. 

Our flower and bulb harvest were both successful. The bulblet harvest was the best we’ve had in recent years. 

This catalog lists more varieties in the heirloom and the younger lists than last year’s did. We’re happy to offer four introductions: two of our own Baker’s Dozen seedlings, Ethan (465 M) and Persephone (466 M); Angel Wings (201 M), an outstanding variety from Dave Kollasch, whose Fruehling we introduced in 2011; and our first Russian intro, Gromov’s beautiful Maya Plisetskaya (423 M), which was previously introduced in Russia in 1997, but is being registered in North America for the first time by Cates Family Glads. 

That’s already more than I intended to write, but there’s still room to say, “Happy gardening in 2013!” 

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Notes from Up North, January 2012

This is rare! Finally we had a growing season with nothing to complain about! In 2009, there was almost never-ending rain. In 2010, we had a major weed problem due to worker shortage. 

In 2011, however, we had a good balance between rain and shine, and therefore a successful harvest of both blooms and corms. As a result, we were able to re-list most of the glads un-listed in 2010. 

Our supply of corms this year is sufficient for us to restore the “6 for the price of 5” special we reluctantly did not offer last year. Please make note of it on your order forms. 

It is a strong motivator for us to be able to make available gladiolus varieties which are otherwise difficult to find. We continue to look for heirloom cultivars and are willing to purchase or trade for same, even if you don’t know their names. (We enjoy detective work and are grateful to growers who help us identify the unknowns.) 

We are building up stock of several rare old-timers. We also have a growing collection of Eastern European varieties, as well as several seedlings which have yet to be introduced, and will list some of them when supply is adequate. 

Wishing a great season to glad growers nationwide, 

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Notes from Up North, January 2011

Well, you see, its like this: last summer we had some great new ideas for weed control, but — a key member of the weeding brigade was not available. Thus, some tough choices. In the end we abandoned a “weed heaven” right in the middle of our second field and concentrated on pampering the bulblet crop and our new introductions of old glad varieties. You’ll find some of our best new/old glads in our 2011 listing. 

Let’s talk bulb size. So many times, I’ve been asked, “What are better, medium or large corms?” Many say that medium bulbs are healthier, but we find that since we have hosed off all bulbs and then disinfected them by a quick dip in a Lysol solution (a tip we received from a former Maine governor), there’s little difference in the health category. 

In many, perhaps most cultivars a healthy, large bulb will give a better bloom than you can get from a medium bulb. Still, both are large enough to do very well in your garden. But, be careful how you experiment with untried weed-control methods, and don’t count your helpers before they are hatched. Or something like that. 

We are excited about new and old offerings in our catalog and on our website this year. If you miss a glad not in our 2011 list, ask us. We may still have a limited stock, all washed, dipped, dried, and cleaned. 

We really do think of our bulb customers as glad friends, and hope that our bulbs will contribute to your glad success this year. 

All the best from us to you! 

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Notes from Up North, January 2010

We’ve never had a summer like the summer of 2009. It rained and rained, and rained some more, coming very close to the biblical 40 days and 40 nights of rain. One florist asked, “What’s your son Chris doing these days?” “Oh, he’s building an ark, and collecting animals two by two!” We learned that you can do a lot of weeding in the rain. Actually, one type of weed simply shriveled and died (drowned?). 

I worried about the bulb harvest. Would the rain encourage fungal infections? Well, our field is well-drained, and glads are tough and, amazingly, we harvested the healthiest bulb crop ever. 

We’re having fun, building up marketable stock of some of the great old-timers. Really rare ones in this year’s list include Frisky (AA) ’63, Gypsy Jewels ’72, and King David ’51. Our 2 new introductions, Papageno and Sunny Sunday, should be worthwhile additions to their color classes. 

2010 will see the 70th anniversary of our Maine Gladiolus Society. We are planning a commemorative edition of our MGS yearbook, with articles from each of the 7 decades. For $3, you can receive our 2010 yearbook and a 2010 membership in the Maine Gladiolus Society. 

You will notice a change in the format of our 2010 catalog. New listings are followed by heirloom glads, 25 years or older. Finally comes the listing of all varieties introduced after 1985. 

We wish all of you good glads in 2010. As for us, we hope for enough moisture, but lots of sun

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Notes from Up North, January 2009

This growing season was too little of this, too much of that: first too dry, then too wet, but at least bulb harvest time had decent weather. As always, our prime New Year’s resolution was no new glads! We have too many already. But, what with our Maine bulb auction, etc., we wound up with the usual 50+ trial varieties, plus a very interesting crop of new seedlings. 

Our efforts to reproduce hard-to-find old-timers are showing excellent results as shown in our listing. Several others are on the verge. Some will be listed next year. A number of varieties from previous years’ catalogs are not listed this year, but may still be available in limited supply. Feel free to ask! 

Our Maine show this year was held in memory of society president Dorothy Martin, who passed away just before the show. She would have appreciated the number and quality of the blooms. Of newer show glads, Santa’s Little Helper was especially impressive. 

We are looking forward to the ’09 growing season, except that I fear we will once again succumb to temptation and break our usual New Year’s resolution. 

The Cates family is well, including yours truly, despite senior moments like an accidental flying dive from the shed steps while shoveling deep snow, and a similar dive, backwards onto a firewood-carrying wagon in our basement. Oh well! Life is great as long as you don’t lose your sense of humor. 

We truly appreciate all of our customers, and are privileged to provide you with a unique list of glads. 

A happy and healthy new year to you all!