Tuesday, February 28, 2012

(Almost) Daily Green

Granny Smith in her new home.
I did not post a Daily Green yesterday because I spent much more time outside and much less time sitting at the computer than I have done in the past weeks. I started the Daily Green partly as a gift to a friend who had expressed a desire to see the greening of spring and partly as a personal challenge to find signs of spring with the camera every day. It is still February (until after tomorrow, anyway) and it has become increasingly difficult to find new green every day. Right now, the sign of spring is the fact that I feel certain deadlines approaching.

The deadline that felt most urgent yesterday was the transplanting of a young apple tree. I bought the Granny Smith apple in the spring two years ago. It lived for a while in a pot and I am not quite sure when I actually planted it in the ground next to the stone stairs leading from our back door. Because it had been in the ground for at least 18 months, I had expected digging it up to be a monumental task, what with trying to get out long, thick and deep roots while breaking as few of them as possible.

Its root system was not nearly as large as I thought it would be -- no long tap roots leading to who knows where -- and digging it out took little time. All the tasks I did around that one had me working hard all day, though.

Since I was going to take the pickup down the hill to the main orchard, I decided to take down a bunch of rocks, as well. We have been using large rocks to train the branches of our trees. Tie twine to the branch that needs to be pulled down and tie the other end to a stone anchor.
Fortunately, we have large piles of rock and dirt from some excavation we had done a couple of years ago, but they are on top of the hill. So I loaded a bunch of rocks into the pickup bed and went down to the main orchard at the bottom of the hill. I dug a pretty large hole that I thought might still be too small to accomodate the Granny Smith's roots (since I hadn't actually dug up the tree at this point). After digging the hole and unloading the rocks, it was lunch time.

After lunch, I loaded more rocks into the pickup, dug up the Granny Smith in a surprisingly short amount of time, plus a clump of yarrow that had been growing near it, filled a couple of buckets with water, then headed down the hill. I struggled a bit with filling the hole around the little (maybe 7-foot tall) tree and dumped on some water. But the hole wasn't quite filled and I decided a rake would make moving the last bit of dirt easier. So I unloaded the rocks and went back up the hill. Loaded up some more (but not quite as many) rocks. Got more water and a rake and headed back down.

Finally, the hole that could have been much smaller if only I had known, was filled in. I watered the tree again, unloaded my third batch of rocks, then planted the yarrow near a couple of the apple trees. According to the Apple Grower Michael Phillips, herb type plants create a better soil environment for fruit tree roots than does grass. I am happy to oblige by expanding my herb gardening to the orchard areas. More yarrow and other herbs will be transplanted and/or seeded there.

I hope to harvest all these little chickweeds in a couple of weeks.
While I was inside the tree cages, I removed some small, winter weeds and found little bits of chickweed growing around the bases of the trees. As we continue pruning our trees, I will be sure to take along a basket and scissors to harvest any of the chickweed that has reached a good size. I do love this little, early wild green.

My tasks at the bottom of the hill completed, I headed back up, put away tools, and took the laundry off of the line. After those hours of digging and moving rocks, my body was not up to an hour and a half of hard yoga, so I opted for a 45-minute cardio workout. After my shower, it was time for my husband to arrive home. The evening at home went by quickly with dinner and a movie (a cute French romantic comedy, "I Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single"). Crawling into bed felt very good.

Today, I will start potting up the cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower and brussels sprouts seedlings so they will be ready to go into the garden in about three weeks. Time is flying!

Sunday night's moon (without her companion planets).

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Daily Green

At the store today we found Enterprise apples (organic, of course). We bought some because one of the trees that we trained and pruned yesterday was an Enterprise variety and we have not tasted them before. I have never seen them sold anywhere until today. This is a relatively new variety (introduced a decade ago or so), maybe the commercial orchards are only now getting sufficient production.
It is a tasty apple, sweet, but not super sweet, with just a little tart underneath. We are looking forward to tasting our own tree-ripened Enterprise apples.
Oh yes, my bare feet in the dirt this morning. I think it's time to be kind of spring...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Daily Green

Tulips are popping through the ground everywhere.

We pruned and trained two more apple trees today. Slow going, a bit chilly, but sunny and lovely working with my sweetheart. Then an evening spent with lovely people.

Life is good.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Daily Green

It is chilly and breezy today -- such a change from Wednesday! I went outside this morning anyway to pick a little lettuce that has just been sitting there and not growing, and to search out and harvest some chickweed.
Got a little bit of chickweed, but didn't find any more that was big enough to cut. However, I did find this little daffodil flower stalk starting up. A couple more weeks and it will be ready to bloom.

Nearby I also found these, which might be some new daffodil leaves.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Daily Green

This morning I went out with bare feet and no jacket to look for new growth in the nettle patch, and here it is. Soon the wild weeds will supplement my garden fare, bringing a burst of nutrition and vitality to my diet.

Yesterday we spent all afternoon pruning and training one apple tree (sigh). Is that a sign that we are being too picky or that we were neglectful last year? This tree had more issues than some of the others, so I hope the rest won't take as long... Anyway, I found tiny bits of chickweed growing at the base of this tree. I love this fresh green wild herb, which is usually the first that can be harvested.

OK... I confess, we did deal with a second apple tree yesterday afternoon. But it took very little time and was quite a dramatic cut. The choice was between cutting it way back, or giving up on the tree entirely and taking it out. Whether it eventually stays or goes depends on its response to the dramatic pruning. I've already got ideas on what to put in its place... Is that bad?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Daily Green

I just finished reading a post by a fellow blogger who wrote about the necessity of finding quiet moments in the chaos, of taking time for yourself, of remembering to "just breathe." Even though I don't have three children, as she does, I also sometimes find myself pushing to finish or get to projects I "should" do. Their demands on my psyche can put me into a frenzy. Those moments are when it is most important to remember to just breathe, to pause and just "Be."

When I am out in the midst of transplanting blackberries, moving compost, building a new raised bed, pruning fruit trees, trimming dead stuff out of the flower beds, weeding.... I make a point of pausing and looking upward to watch a flock of honking geese go by, to say hello to the honeybees looking for sustenance in the crocus blooms, to search for new blossoms, or pull back the dead stuff to see look for fresh leaves on the nettles. Whatever lovely moment happens, I try to pause and take it in.

My husband helps in this. While driving home from work, he has called to tell me to go out and look at a particularly beautiful sunset. He reminds me that even though I am not the one going OUT to work, that I do a lot of work and it is OK for me to take time for myself. It is OK to just breathe, to just Be. I try to do the same for him.

Whatever demands your life brings, don't believe the screaming in your head that says that they are more important than looking at the sunset, or sunrise, or talking to the bees, or smelling a rose, or hugging someone, or listening to a child's story or any moment that makes life rich and wonderful and beautiful. When you are on your deathbed, you won't wish that you had washed dishes more...

So when the laundry or dirty dishes command and you find yourself harried and frenzied and wishing for all the world just to step outside and absorb the beauty of that sunset... ask yourself, "Which would I wish to be the last memory I take with me?" Then do it and really, truly Be there.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Daily Green

Like three peas in a... row.
Planted peas today -- Sugar Sprint Snap Peas and Oregon II Sugar Pod Snow Peas. Also a little mizuna, spinach and arugula. I know... it's only February. But it's 51 degrees with a warm week in the forecast. Besides, the moon is right. And I always try to get my first peas in before the end of February. Doesn't usually mean I get peas any earlier than if I'd wait three more weeks, but it satisfies something in me. Anyway, they might come early this year.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Daily Green

Rain today. More crocus getting ready to bloom.
Yesterday... Fighting pirates with an almost-4 granddaughter. Taking her around the garden to say "hello" to the fairies. Then, she picks a single yellow winter aconite blossom and carefully cradles it in her hands so she can "take it to mommy for her garden."

Finished reading "The Humanure Handbook." Science and passion together make a compelling argument, although all the rhetoric about saving water and stuff may not be necessary. If you are reading the book, you are already aware and concerned. Anyway, I am ready... to be more "green."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Daily Green

New growth on the arugula. Sure, this arugula was protected throughout the winter, but the increasing light is spurring new growth... It won't be long.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Daily Green

First crocus bloom...
Clothes drying on the line....
Putting compost on the garden where peas and cabbages will soon be planted...
Tired... slipping between sheets smelling of sunshine.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Feast of Green

For my friend who lamented that it may feel like spring, but she just wanted to see some green...

Frost-covered potentilla leaves.
   Spring, with silent footsteps creeps
Across a land still fast asleep
And leaves footprints so brightly green
To let us know where it has been.
 Frost encrusted green
   In morning stillness...
     Until the sun stretches out
It fingers...

 Radishes, almost ready to pull.

Baby spinach.



Even tulip leaves...

Winter aconite in bloom!

Blue flax leaves.

Moss in the shade of a cedar tree.

Bees returning with full pollen bags.

Tiny elder leaves.

Chickweed creeping...

Wild garlic in the woods...

And branches filled with swelling buds and busy chickadees.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

GMO disappointment

When the First Lady planted an organic garden on the White House lawn, I had hoped that this administration would be friendly to organic and family farming movements and a healthier food supply. I have been disappointed in its support of certain big ag trends, particularly genetic modification of plant organisms (GMO). Before you dismiss this out of hand, please read this post and give it some consideration. We owe it to future generations.

I have opposed GMOs since they first hit the scene, for philosophical and scientific reasons. Number one of which is that no studies have proven these as safe for human or animal consumption or safe for the environment, while many have shown potential harm. So I find it particularly disturbing that a former executive and lobbyist for Monsanto (which seems bent on bending food production entirely out of shape) has been appointed as a senior adviser to the FDA commissioner. This seems highly suspect to me, unless the man has had a complete transformation.

I signed a petition opposing this move. Following is the opening paragraph to that petition, plus some snippets, then the link to the petition if you should choose to sign it. I try to stay out of politics in this blog, but this issue is very dear to me and I want to keep our food supplies clean. At the very least, we must label products with GMO in them and let the consumers choose. I find too many questions about the safety of these products to feel comfortable eating them or serving them to anyone. Please support seed suppliers that have pledged not to sell GMO seed, such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, among others. There is a reason we oppose this.


"President Obama, I oppose your appointment of Michael Taylor, a former VP and lobbyist for Monsanto, the widely criticized genetically modified (GM) food multinational, as senior advisor to the commissioner at the FDA. Taylor is the same person who as a high-ranking official at the FDA in the 1990s promoted allowing genetically modified organisms into the U.S. food supply without undergoing a single test to determine their safety or risks."

".......Naturally occurring plant and animal species are permanently threatened by the introduction of DNA and hormonal modification, Monsanto's core businesses. 

"FDA scientists once regarded genetic modification of the food supply as the single most radical and potentially dangerous threat to public health in history. As early as the 1991, a body of scientific research began to form which now includes articles in over 600 journals. As a whole, these offer scientific evidence that GM foods, hormones, and related pesticides are the root cause for the increase of many serious diseases in the U.S." Sign petition HERE...

Please help give my grandchildren, your grandchildren and all future generations a clean food supply and healthy world by giving greater scrutiny to this subject and other agriculture issues. This is our FOOD, people. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Elderberries in April. A heavy late winter pruning removes dead wood
and helps contain the shrubs' size, as well as encouraging new growth and  fruiting.
How does this happen? The warmest winter I can remember experiencing, and I've come down with my second cold of the season. Usually, I stay pretty healthy. What gives?

This cold is a bit worse than the last. I feel really tired and dragged out. I've popped garlic in my mouth. Drunk ginger, lemon and honey tea. Taken doses of echinacea tincture and lemon balm tincture. Drunk tea made with elder flowers, peppermint and yarrow. And I just finished eating a small bowl of elderberry jam -- as the berries possess anti-viral properties. It also is a great comfort food and quite tasty.

One or another species of elder (Sambucus spp.) is native to many different regions of the world, including here in Kansas, where Sambucus canadensis runs rampant. Its lacy umbels of flowers dress the mid-summer landscape. Several other species also are native to North America. The European species is Sambucus nigra, called by Shakespeare (whoever he really was) "the stinking elder" because its leaves smell like mouse nests, according to some recent reading I've done. Sambucus species also inhabit Asia and other parts of the world.

Wherever they grow, elders are used for their medicinal purposes. The berries of the European elder and the one grown here provide not only anti-viral action, but many nutrients. The bark and roots have been used in the past, to purge the body of its illness, as they are strong cathartics (a extreme laxative) and emetic (make you vomit). This approach is not much used in our kinder, gentler herbal medicine. The leaves can be used externally on bruises, sprains and chillblains. The cooked, ripe berries and the flowers provide enough benefits on their own for this plant to warrant a spot in the landscape, provided you have a large enough area.

Cooled infusions (strong teas) of dried elder flowers are used as a facial wash and to soothe irritated eyes. As a cold remedy, the flower tea reduces mucous membrane inflammation. In influenza, it helps the body sweat out a fever. Its properties complement those of yarrow and peppermint (both of which are somewhat antiseptic, among other things) for colds. Mix with boneset for the flue. Peppermint grows beneath my elders and yarrow grows close by.

White flowers (not the daisies) are yarrow.
Elder berries make a wonderful wine. A wine made from our berries collected in 2010 came out surprisingly pale, with a champagne-like fizz. Very nice. Typically, elder berry wine is dark and richly flavored. Wine made from the flowers is pale.

I make lots of elderberry jam each year and usually finish eating it all before the next year's berries are ready. Because they ripen in August, when I have a bazillion other things to process and preserve, this past year I froze all my elder berries and made them into jam when things were a bit quieter. I let the frozen berries thaw, processed out the seeds and then cooked the pulpy juice into jam.

Fairies appear beneath elders even in winter time.
Elderberry shrubs (Sambucus canadensis, at least) are quite easy to grow. They can be placed in full sun or part shade and seem to adapt to many conditions. You find them growing at the edges of woods and along roadsides all throughout northeast Kansas. Cultivated varieties bear larger berries than the wild ones do, and some bear a little earlier.

Elder shrubs sucker rampantly, that is, they send out underground runners that pop up shoots along their length. I have seen shoots pop up many feet from the parent plant. This occurs most frequently in the spring, so I spend a lot of time in April cutting back shoots. You can dig these and transplant if you want to start another stand elsewhere.

Butterfly on yarrow flowers.
In Europe, the elder tree/shrub also was tied to a lot of myth and folklore. You simply were not to cut wood from the tree without express permission of the spirit living in the tree. On Midsummer's eve, you can see fairies if you sit beneath an elder. I love my beautiful elders and am grateful for the healthful jam and flower tea they provide.

Now I am thinking about that elderberry wine in the pantry. Perhaps I should have a bit... strictly for medicinal  purposes, of course.

Elderberry shrubs in full summer bloom.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Rainy Day, Yay!!

Need I say more?
After all these weeks to finally hear rain falling on the roof was glorious.

Rain in the apricot tree.
Thunder woke me at just before 5:30 a.m. I vaguely remembered hearing distant thunder a little earlier, but the louder thunder rang an alarm in the practical part of my brain, warning me that my delicate electronics (the laptop and my sewing machine) could be in danger. The thought shoved me out of bed a slight bit before my body was fully conscious and I nearly fell out of bed.

Anyway, I was happy to fall out of bed to unplug things. Then I fed the fire and fell back into a lovely, contented slumber for a couple more hours.

I don't know how much rain we've gotten so far. I am sure I would be somewhat disappointed.

I take that back. My husband (who is feeling much, much better today, thank you) just checked the gauge. About 1 inch has fallen so far. And we've got more to come.

It is so wonderful to see gray sky and dampness all around. Raindrops hanging from the trees and puddling on the stones and driveway.

We won't see any high fire danger warnings today. No we won't. Nor tomorrow or the next day.

Since I won't be shoveling any dirt or anything else outdoors today, I decided to spend a little time playing with the camera. The amaryllis has two fully opened blossoms, and looks quite picturesque in the gray light coming through the windows.

Here is one of the blossoms, backlit by gray light, with a really soft focus.

Here is the other blossom, facing out the window. She seems contemplative, happily so.

And then, one final photo of rain puddled on a stone with sage overlooking.
Hope all your rainy days are happy ones.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ground Hog Day

Red Russian kale planted last fall and still growing.
A few days ago I complained that it didn't feel like winter, but did not yet feel like spring.
The days since then have definitely felt like spring to me.
Georgia Southern Collards, yummy yum.
On Tuesday, I removed the plastic from the low tunnels protecting the kale, collards and lettuce. Spinach is sprouting where I planted it among the lettuce and the little radishes keep on growing. Some of the lettuce also is starting to regrow. I replaced the plastic on the lettuce beds with frost blanket (an extra heavy row cover), but did not cover the kale and collards.
So now you can see green stuff in the garden.
That's what makes it feel like spring, the green, not the warm days.
Green is the color of spring.

So this Groundhog Day has come and gone. I don't know about where you live, but any groundhog here (and yes we have groundhogs in Kansas) would have had to be quick about seeing his shadow. The sun came up in a hazy sky and seemed pretty wan most of the day, although during much of the morning I could see a shadow. It was another exceptionally warm and dry day, which means that the rest of the season, until the equinox will be wintry, according to ancient lore.

The blackberries have been removed from more than half the
blackberry bed, which has been reshaped and contained and will grow
lovely carrots in the loose dirt this spring and fall.
And we should get a start tomorrow, with much cooler temps and rain, blessed rain... 100 percent chance the last I saw, with a bonus of thunder. Then rain mixing with snow on Saturday and possibly turning to all snow with potential for some accumulation. Not a drought-breaker, but a start.

One other thing that has it feeling like spring is that I was looking around today noticing all of the projects to get done this spring -- there are always projects to do, that's not the spring thing -- but I was beginning to feel that tickle of panic worrying that I won't be able to get it all done. That sense of urgency that the season is passing by too quickly, that is spring. But it's only early February. Chill out girl.

Branching out.
Figuring out how to prune this problematic
William's Pride apple took a good long meditation.
February is the beginning of fruit tree pruning and we started yesterday. Hubby has been reading the pruning section in "The Apple Grower" by Michael Phillips (excellent, excellent read) and another book all about pruning all sorts of fruit and nut trees and shrubs. So his head is full of pruning knowledge. I read "The Apple Grower" last year, so I've got some of it in my head still.

The important thing with pruning fruit trees is to develop a good structure called "scaffolding." You pick a few good branches at the right location on the tree and cut away the rest. Crotch angle and vigor and balance are some of the things to look for. Phillips wrote that one should first approach the tree and take a deep breath, then sit in silence with the tree, looking at its shape and considering what its shape should look like. Then you start cutting.

Hubby and I made it through five trees yesterday (OK, four, it was too early to do the peach in our Sunset Grove). The task took several hours as each of us contemplated and considered, then we discussed and finally we pruned and trained. Yes, you can teach an apple tree tricks -- or rather, how to grow properly. It took plenty of twine and rocks to train these trees.

A little pruning and training, and William's Pride
has a better look.
To train, we looped one end of the twine onto a branch and tugged it in the proper direction, usually to get a more horizontal angle, but also to pull it one way or another to fill in space around the tree. The other end was looped around a stone or tied to the cage or one of the posts holding the cage (which prevents the deer from loving the trees to death).

It can look a little odd having all those bits of orange twine stretching from limb to ground, but next year when we remove it, we will have a better shaped tree.

In a few days, we will do some heading cuts on the laterals (the main branches growing horizontally from the trunk) to encourage the proper type of growth. Early pruning invigorates growth. During late spring and summer, we will cut out excess branching, as pruning at that time discourages new growth.

Apricot tree in bloom last year.
Pruning and training of stone fruits -- peaches, apricots, plums, cherries -- will be done later in the spring, maybe April. It's nice to be able to spread out the pruning job. Apples and pears now, other trees later. Not sure about the hazels, will have to check on that.

I did three trees today.

Paw paw flowers.

Hubby consulted while I did the work. He is suffering the injustice of being sick while on vacation. He thought he was improving yesterday, but today (his actual vacation day) was much worse. Interesting how that so often happens to people, getting sick as soon as vacation starts. I think it's a sign of too much stress on the job.

We've got three trees on order for planting this spring, two apples -- Ashmead's Kernal and Hudson's Golden  Gem -- and a paw paw (variety, Mango). We are accumulating quite a selection of fruits. Last year I added a quince tree -- Aromatnaya -- along with the more ordinary grapes and blueberries. The fig tree is under wraps right now, although it probably didn't need the protection this year. A couple of honeyberry shrubs also are on their way. They supposedly taste like blueberries, but are easier to grow. We will see.

Here's hoping your Groundhog Day was a good one!

Straw bales were packed around the fig tree (which was trained horizontally)
to protect it from winter weather. The row cover helps hold loose straw
in place. More on fig growing later.