Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Inhale....

Yesterday morning was warm... no, change that... Yesterday morning was hot and humid.
While picking snap peas (oh, I could sing the virtues of snap peas) I leaned over this mass of white arugula blossoms and caught a whiff of a pleasant fragrance. I did not know that arugula blossoms emitted such a sweet smell.

The garden daily brings me surprises. I wish they were all this sweet.

One does not usually couple arugula with sweetness. Its leaves add a pleasant, pungent bitterness to salads, something like mustard greens (to which it is related), but not quite. My first taste of arugula (20 years ago?) left me somewhat ambivalent. I wasn't quite sure if I liked it or not. But I've grown to love it and my garden is never without it. Indeed, if you routinely let it flower and set seed, just try to be without it.

It grows and tastes best when the weather is on the cool side, but with regular harvesting stands up reasonably well in the heat. Except it does bolt quickly when it gets warm.So I'll just go about smelling the arugula flowers. Imagine.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Poppies, poppies....


Poppies, so many poppies. We could call the Full Moon of June the Poppy Moon.

One of Shirley's many colors.
I so love these showy, brilliantly colored and varied flowers. The poppies shown above, playing nicely with the Echinacea pallida, are probably Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas). It's been so long since I planted the original seed that I have no idea which poppy breed they are, except that these look like Internet photos of Shirley poppies. But I also found other photos of "Shirleys" online that look different. They may simply be "double" cultivars. Double indicates extra rows of petals. Both the red and the pink are the same variety, as their colors vary greatly.

These are easy to grow and hardy annuals that must be planted each year.

Another Shirley, aka "corn poppy"
I collect the bulbous poppy seedheads when they turn brown, and shake out the seeds once they're fully dry (or, more likely, I'll just let them sit in a plastic container or a paper bag and the seeds mostly fall out on their own). In early spring, or even late fall I'll scatter the seeds...
Except, I don't always. Many times late fall and early spring pass by and the seeds are still sitting in their containers... which is what happened this year.

Fortunately these poppies self-sow rampantly. Their vivid blooms scattered among other blooms and greenery make a wild and lovely show.

The most famous -- or infamous -- species of poppy is Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy, which is the same species of poppy used to produce the seeds on your poppyseed bun. Opium production requires making an incision in the seed head, which then secretes a milky sap. The sap is left to dry until the next day, when it is scraped off. Production of opium seems like a very labor- and time-intensive activity. More effort than I'd want to go to. It's much easier just to shake the tiny black seeds from the pods and use them in baking. Tastier, too. And less likely to get you in trouble with the law.

Seeds for these lovelies were given to me by a friend. As far as
I can tell, they are Hungarian pepperbox, which is a cultivar of
the breadseed poppy, Papaver somniferum.
Some countries outright outlaw this poppy species and its extracts. Some require a license to grow them for legal medicines. Others have no laws ruling growing of these poppies, as far as I can tell. The U.S. allows these poppies to be grown for seed and ornamental purposes, but it is illegal to produce opium from them (naturally). At least that's how precedence stands. You can easily find seed for bread seed poppies and grow your own for baked goods, or just for their beauty.

It was probably a field of P. somniferum that Dorothy found herself walking through on her way to see the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The fumes from the poppies put Dorothy, Toto and the Cowardly Lion to sleep. Of course, the Scarecrow and Tin Man, not having to breathe, were unaffected. Their method of escape from the deadly field of poppies differs between the book and the movie. However, it's doubtful that one will be affected by the narcotic effects of poppies just by walking through a field of them.

The opium poppy, as many powerful medicine plants, features in the myths of the Mediterranean region, their native stomping grounds. The most commonly known myth (at least to me) is that the Greek Goddess of the Fields, Demeter, created the opium poppy when her daughter Persephone went to live in the Underworld. The poppy helped her sleep. It also became the symbol of Hypnos, the God of Sleep, and his brother Thanatos, the God of Death (eternal sleep). The son of Hypnos, Morpheus, God of Dreams, also claimed the opium poppy for his symbol and the word "morphine" was derived from his name.

The Shirley poppy was earlier known as the corn poppy, as it grew in the grain fields, and also was sacred to Demeter. Another epithet for this species is "Flanders poppy," and it now symbolizes remembrance of those whose lives were lost in war.

Other poppy species also exist, including a few perennial and biennial species. There is the California poppy, and this lovely orange, but unknown-to-me species (at right). It came in a bag of seed for "bee flowers." I think some California poppies might have been in that bag, too, but I see none blooming now.

And finally, I have this lovely horned poppy, also known as sea poppy (Glaucium flavum) because of its love for the seaside. I gathered seed for this plant from one growing in the xeriscape demonstration garden at the Extension office. This species also produces bright yellow flowers, as well as these lovely orange ones. Xeriscape is a term for low moisture gardening. So it should work well in arid conditions, as its blue green foliage suggests. It is native to Europe, but seems to do well here. Apparently this is a short-lived perennial, so I must gather seed from this three-year-old plant if I want to be sure of enjoying its blooms year after year. The seedpods are long and pointed, unlike the bulbous pods of other poppy species, which gave it the name "horned" poppy.

Enjoy Poppy Moon, you all.







Friday, June 2, 2017

Surprise!

I walked down to the pond a couple of mornings ago to watch the spirits dancing across the surface of the water. Other people might call it mist, but I see beautiful spirits. It was in the last days of May and the mornings have still been cool enough for the spirits to rise from the water.

As I walked back to the house I saw something orange at the edge of the mowed area. Upon investigation I discovered this lovely wildflower. Consulting the "Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses" Web site I was able to identify it as Western Wallflower, Erysimum asperum, a flower I had not encountered before -- that I know of. It most frequently occurs as a bright yellow instead of this lovely orange yellow. Later I went searching for additional information on "western wallflower" and encountered numerous sites referring to Erysimum capitatum.

What?

Surely the Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses Web site doesn't have the name wrong. Well, it doesn't. Further searching revealed that both species are referred to as western wallflower. Indeed, both species might actually just be one species. No matter how much the classifiers fiddle with things, confusion still remains.

Anyway, both species are members of the mustard family, aka Brassicaceae, the same family to which cabbage, broccoli, mustard, and so on belong. The evidence is in their four-petaled flowers, which initially caused their family to be called Cruciferae, referring to the cross-shape of the flowers.

Another new flower friend. I wonder if it will be possible to catch its seed and scatter it in the flower bed, and if its possible for me not to pull and resultant seedlings as "weeds."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Turtle in the Garden

Something has been digging in the garden...
Just holes in the wood mulch here and there, and some spots where the hay and straw mulch on the sides of the raised beds has been pulled away.
One morning I discovered the hay mulch messed up over an entire 30-foot bed, with areas of disturbed soil

I wanted to blame the rabbits. And I did.

Until I found the lady pictured above sitting cozily inside the three-ring "tomato" cage set up to support a pepper plant. She just shoved pepper plant over (it was easily righted later, so no harm) and plopped her round hiney into the soil. Presumably she laid eggs, or at least tried.

Then I remembered the same kind of mysterious digging in the garden last year that coincided with the appearance of an ornate box turtle laying eggs... probably this very same box turtle, of the subspecies Terrapene ornata ornata, which prefers grasslands. Another subspecies of ornate box turtle, Terrapene ornata luteola, prefers more arid habitats.

I don't know that any of her eggs hatched last year. At least one of the nests she planted in the garden got dug up by something with a taste for turtle eggs. That predation and the fact that they produce few eggs at a time means the ornate box turtle has a very low reproduction rate. I hope she has better fortune this time. I will be anxious to see whether any quarter-size turtles appear in about two months. How to protect the babies from hungry critters, I don't know.

My box turtle neighbor would love snacking on these strawberries, if they were
not inside a fence intended to prevent rabbits, deer and opossums from eating
them. The turtle must then be satisfied with eating bugs, worms, carrion, and
wild berries and other vegetation.
Box turtles are unique in the turtle world in that they live their lives on land, not in water. Doesn't that make them tortoises? Apparently not, according to the people who classify things. It has something to do with the shape of their feet and other body parts, I gather. Anyway, once this lady is done laying eggs, the mysterious digging will cease. The bed she dug up has been put back into order. None of the seedlings that had already sprouted were disturbed and where no seedlings had emerged I replanted. No harm done.

I won't hold a grudge against her and I'm glad it wasn't the rabbits doing the digging. I really don't want to put up any more chicken wire fences. I've already got the strawberries permanently surrounded, and temporary fences around the peas, beans and sweet potatoes.

Surely, that's enough.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Happy May Day

This is a day in May, so it is a May day, even if I'm late for THE May Day.
So Happy May Day.

The Sweet Woodruff under the hedge tree has not yet bloomed, so technically we haven't yet reached the ancient May Day, also called Beltane.

But many other plants are blooming. Look at the chives (above)! Not only are they pretty and cheerful, but tasty too. Toss them into salads, sprinkle them on top of anything. Maybe not ice cream, but who knows... They dress up a plain dish and add an oniony pop.

The Souvenir de la Malmaison rose (pictured here) is about to open, in spite of dying back to the ground this winter (probably too dry). Since it's not a grafted rose it grows from its own roots. So these are indeed the buds of the Souvenir de la Malmaison. The blooms are white with a hint of pink, and they are fragrant.




Also blooming now is this wild indigo (right). I thought this was Baptisia leucophaea, which is native to this area. But that has drooping flower stalks, while the stalks of this one are erect. So I think this is Baptisia sphaerocarpa. There aren't many other choices. The blue wild indigo (B. australis) is beginning to bloom, as well.

The iris (no photo, sorry) are blooming early, including those old fashion purple iris that smell so wonderful. The hummingbirds are back, sipping from the wild columbine. The bumblebees and other bees happily dine at the comfrey blossoms. I'm picking lettuce, radishes, radicchio, spinach, and arugula. Numerous tiny apples form on the trees, and one of the peach trees has about a dozen baby peaches. I will guard them ferociously when they near ripeness, to keep the squirrels, or whatever, from stealing them.Strawberries are beginning to turn color and on Monday I plant the tomatoes!

Yay for May!


--In case you're still interested in ticks, here is an article from Mother Earth News about dealing with ticks, including some herbal repellants.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tick-les


Don't these black raspberries look tidy now? Beware; it's tick country.
What is that tickle?
I frantically lift my shirt or my skirt, or drop my pants, and look (to the best of my ability, depending on where the tickle is). Every little ruffle of clothes or brush of a hair tickles. So I'm constantly checking -- especially if I've been crawling around in the garden. Gah! What is that tickle?

I try to be more discreet when I'm in public. But still I check. I haven't had to head to the restroom to check a tickle... yet. But every little tickling sensation raises suspicion.

It is the season of paranoia.

Tick paranoia, that is.

A couple of weeks ago I started work on my black raspberry bed, clearing away extraneous plants, dead canes and weeds, which required much crawling on the ground. I also walked a short way into the nearby tall grass to dump wheelbarrow loads of pruned canes.

As I sat down to dinner that evening I felt something tickling my belly. When I pulled up my shirt I discovered almost a half dozen tiny ticks  crawling up my abdomen. Later I took off my clothes (outside) and found quite a few more clinging to the inside of my shirt and jeans. Yikes!

So the black raspberry patch is a tick haven. Perhaps now that I've removed some of the shade, making it less cozy, the ticks won't like it as much. Maybe. But they seem to be everywhere. When I'm in the garden for any period of time I can expect to bring home a tick or two. These are tiny ticks, most likely the nymph phase, which is their second stage after hatching out. The larval stage ticks are even tinier and have just six legs, while the nymph and adult stages have eight. Yes, eight. They are arachnids not insects.

I think these guys are American dog ticks, not the black-legged deer ticks that spread Lyme disease. The other day I tried looking at a couple with a magnifying glass, but they moved so fast it was hard to get good detail. And counting their legs is nearly impossible.

While the dog ticks supposedly don't transmit Lyme disease, they can transmit other serious diseases, some potentially fatal. That makes thorough (and I do mean thorough; don't get squeamish) body checks necessary every night. (Believe, just taking a shower is not sufficient.) I might begin doing tick checks more than once a day. The sooner you get them off, the less chance they have of transmitting disease. Tick checks are best done with a friend who can more easily check those places you can't check yourself very well. Tick checks with a friend can be fun. Have a glass of wine and some chocolate and go with the flow. Just get all the ticks off first. And flush 'em.

I've also started putting my work clothes in the dryer and running it on high heat for 10 minutes (actually, I give it two or three minutes more) when I come in. That's supposed to kill any ticks still clinging to my apparel.

But I am beginning to tire of ticks just a bit. It seems I must remove my clothes every time I come indoors after working in the garden so I don't shed ticks everywhere. Last night I found four ticks on my husband, and he hadn't even been outside. Today I vacuumed the entire house, hoping to suck up any ticks that might be waiting for one of us to pass by.

Rather than rewrite all the tick info I found on the wide Web I'll just direct you to this link  and send you to K-State Research and Extension where you can find a free, downloadable publication about ticks here; look for publication MF598.

No need to fear, just do tick ch..... Gah! What's that tickle??!!


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Garden Spears

It's asparagus season!
This cozy pair of shoots was consumed long ago, as I started my harvest just before the beginning of April. Lunch today included super tasty roasted asparagus. It's also great steamed and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or lightly cooked into stir-fries and other vegetable dishes.

In times past I've been forced to wait until almost mid-April for my first taste of this perennial vegetable. But our recent milder winters and early spring warm-ups seem to have pushed asparagus season up a couple of weeks. While this might appear to be a good thing to some, I'm not sure it is. Harvest should last only a couple of months regardless of when it starts. And last year the asparagus did not seem as productive as in previous years. It doesn't look like it will be quite as productive this year, either.

Some of the lack came from the disappearance of some of the plants. I'm not sure why they died out -- maybe because I don't water them much during droughty conditions. Anyway, this year I bought a half dozen crowns to fill in some empty spots. The nursery employee who checked out my purchases suggested putting rock salt on it. "They love it," he said. True or not true? Most things I read say that salt is an iffy additive at best, and detrimental over the long term at worst. Asparagus tolerates sodium chloride salt better than other plants, so application of rock salt has been used as weed control, but is not actually beneficial to the asparagus otherwise. Although some sources say that's still a controversy.

I'm not planning to use salt on my asparagus, as I did plant parsley in the asparagus bed, which is supposed to be helpful to the asparagus, although I forget how. Anyway, I'm always looking for ways to use my beds for more than one crop. I also get cilantro popping up in the asparagus. Since my husband eats lots of cilantro, I let it grow wherever it wants to -- almost.

Asparagus is relatively easy to grow. It prefers loose soil with plenty of organic matter, although it will still do well in pretty much any soil type, as long as the pH is about neutral. It's getting too late to plant asparagus here in northeast Kansas, so scope out your garden areas and start preparing your asparagus bed now, digging deeply and adding compost. Planting in a raised bed helps keep it well drained in extra rainy times, and allows the soil to warm a little sooner in spring. Don't harvest your asparagus in the year you plant it, and then harvest only minimally until the fourth year, when you can harvest the full eight weeks. You can extend the harvest a couple more weeks by allow a couple of fronds to form for each plant about midway. That provides energy from photosynthesis.



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A-Foraging I Go...

Spring thunderstorms roll today; the fifth day of gray raininess.

In between the rains I can go foraging through the gardens. Both cultivated and wild plants provide new growth for me to plunder.

The basket of goodies above made up most of the salad that I had for dinner last night. Spinach from last fall's planting, new and tender horseradish leaves, and one Purple Passion Asparagus spear made up the cultivated portion -- along with a few leaves from my potted lettuce.

On the wild side were chickweed (my favorite), cleavers (it's Everywhere), wild violet leaves, and wild violet flowers (aren't they pretty?).

I topped it with slivers of roasted beets (red and yellow), chopped chives, and a drizzle of olive oil and blackberry-ginger balsamic vinegar. Some nights I'll toss in a few young leaves of lavender mint, lemon balm, monarda, or spearmint. You can't get more gourmet than that. You can't get much more nutritious than that, either.
Tonight I foraged more chickweed (found a new bunch under the elderberries) and some of the beautiful flowers that give the redbud tree its name (shown at left). Chickweed prefers moist and shady areas, although it will tolerate some drought with sufficient shade. It is one of those "winter annuals" that begin growing in mid-to late winter and die back when the weather turns hot.

The chickweed has started to set flower buds, so I'm trying to keep it cut back to encourage new growth and delay flowering. I love its bright green flavor in salads or as a fresh topping on hot dishes. The redbud flowers lend a pea-like flavor. A friend of mine likes to put them on her toast.

Wild plants offer much to us in the way of nutrition and medicinal value. And we also often overlook the tasty edibleness of some of our cultivated plants -- such as the horseradish leaves. I've got to use the horseradish leaves as much as possible now, as they are growing fast and soon will be too tough to eat. Those lovely purple grape hyacinth flowers growing in the front of my house also are edible. And the flowers of johnny-jump-ups and other violas, such as pansies. Roses, daylily buds and tubers... the list goes on.

Most people would include stinging nettles on their list of wild foods, but I cannot honestly do that, since I cultivate them. By "cultivate" I mean I give them a few spots to grow and do not discourage them (until they wander into the paths). I even pull weeds out of the nettle patch. Nettles are chock full of vitamins and minerals. Really, really good for you. They have a rich flavor that goes well with onions and other strong flavors, although steamed nettles topped with butter and a bit of salt are melt-in-my-mouth scrumptious. This is the best time to pick them, when they're young and tender. Cooking and drying take out their sting.

Another wild edible I will utilize in a month or so is lambs quarters. Related to spinach, this plant is even more nutritious than its cultivated cousin. And tasty. It tastes like spinach, only better. Of course I'm eating the dandelions, too. The entire plant is edible and medicinal. Later the purslane will begin to take over some parts of the garden. Might as well eat it.

Foraging is lots of fun. You'd be surprised at all the stuff around you that is edible. This article from Mother Earth News (it's old but relevant) gives good information about wild foraging, as well as a list of wild edibles. Of course the list is incomplete (it doesn't even include cleavers) and not all of these will be available everywhere.

Plants don't have to be wild to be part of the foraging. The forage can include parts of plants people don't normally consider eating, but which are eminently edible, or cultivated plants that have their own ideas about where to grow. A friend of mine (yes, the one who eats redbud blossoms) makes "sidewalk salad" from the various things that spring up between the stones in her paths. The salad can include a wide variety of things, from dandelion greens to the arugula and lemon balm that scatter seeds everywhere.

Just be sure you know for absolute certain the identity of a plant, and which part is edible before you go noshing.



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Farewell in Spring

On the day of my last post we learned that a friend had died that morning. It seems utterly appropriate that the day of his death would bring the first significant rainfall that we've had in months. The rain is like a balm.

It is spring. As we grieve loss, the world around us comes back to life and blooms. Each blossom brings hope. Each new green shoot reminds us that life pushes up from darkness. I feel grounded by the reminder of this constant and eternal flow; the ever-turning wheel.

Tears wet our faces as the rain drips from the yellow blooms.
And the rain continues.
Farewell.




Saturday, March 25, 2017

Water is Life

Rain on the Daffodils.
At last.

After several months with little to no precipitation, the sound of heavy rain on the roof is the sweetest music. All the muscles in my body relaxed with that sound. Other issues seemed less distressing once the rain started pounding and actually creating mud.

Lately I'd become increasingly aware of every drop of water I used. Dish water, and water used to wash vegetables got dumped on the herbs and flowers surrounding the house. Sometimes I'd even wander over to the asparagus bed with the water. Use and reuse. When waiting for the water from the tap to get hot, I collect it in my watering can to use later on the potted plants. Every time I let water go down the drain instead of getting used, I felt a bit guilty.

So far we've had about an inch and a half of precipitation since yesterday morning, with more to come, according to the forecast.

But I don't consider the potential drought averted. That can only become known over the next few weeks. Still, we've had a reprieve. The seeds and plants I put in the ground this past week are getting what they need. I am more hopeful about this growing season.

Water is Life. Nothing lives without it. Nothing.
Don't forget that.
I will still try to be conscious of every drop of water I use; especially that which might be going to waste.
Water is precious. Water is Life.
It shouldn't take drought or the loss of all our clean water to remind us of that simple fact.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Just a Pretty Picture

Gray and snowy, with the promise of low temperature in the low 20s tonight.
But this recently opened amaryllis brightens the day.
I have a couple of other pots of amaryllis sporting multiple orange-red blossoms, as well. When they first opened a week (or two?) ago, they seemed huge and brilliant. Now they seem dwarfed by this large bright pink-red blossom that towers over them. I have kept these bulbous plants going for more than 10 years by setting the pots outside on the north side of the house, or another shady spot for the summer and bringing them indoors for the winter.

Last year I finally learned how to get them to bloom more reliably. Bring them indoors for the winter, preferably before the first frost, and stop watering them. I set mine in our attached garage. They don't need light. Let the leaves dry up and look dead. Previously I would bring them in the house for the winter and try to keep them green and growing. Sometimes they would bloom, sometimes not. Letting them go completely dormant should make them bloom more reliably. This year they have more blooms than usual. Except the big one, which has only one flower stalk. But it didn't bloom at all last year.

When I saw ready for them to bloom, I brought them into the warmth of the house, set them where they got light, and started watering them. Within a couple of weeks or so they sent up green blades that were followed by flower stalks. And, bada bing, brilliant blossoms. But it took at least a month to get from leafless to flowering.

Next year I might bring them into the house sooner, so I can have blooms in January, maybe even in December. Maybe not in December; they'd overshadow the Thanksgiving Cactus that bloomed throughout November and December. You also can follow the same method, but set them outdoors in spring and have these gorgeous members of the lily family setting fire to your gardens.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Getting Nettled, and Other Signs of Spring

Picked my first basketful of nettles before dinner yesterday. Yes, the stinging kind.
And I did it with my bare hands. Of course, at this young stage their sting is pretty mild.
I made a pot of stew rife with some of these nutritious nettle greens, stewed in chicken bone broth with carrots, celery, kale and sweet potatoes, seasoned with oregano, garlic powder and salt and pepper.

Nettle harvest isn't the only sign of spring. You've already met the crocuses. Yesterday I noticed daffodils blooming. And the vultures are back. Two of them, anyway. On the windiest of windy days earlier this week we saw two vultures circling. Even in the high wind (gusts of up to 40 miles per hour) these large birds seemed unruffled. They dove into the wind, moving forward without a flap. Instead they merely angled their wings to guide themselves through. Pure inspiration. Face the wind and move through it without struggling, but flowing. Taoists, surely.

The inspirational flights of the vultures prompted us to rename our little piece of paradise as Spirit Bird Farm. We had tired of Cedar Springs Farm, a name we chose before we really knew this place, and when the springs still ran, filling the pond. The springs are no longer reliable, although the cedars are even bigger and more abundant.

We have lots of spirit birds here. The hawks were very prominent in the sky this past winter. Occasionally bald eagles fly overhead. Barred howls laugh uproariously in the night. The crows have their charms. And then we have all these songbirds and other small birds.

But it is the vultures that define our sense of spirit bird. Soaring and circling, swooping and rising, rising, rising... silently, gracefully. They always seemed to be making the most of their "work," their search for food. And when a silent shadow passes over me as I work outside, I am reminded to be here now, for I too am mortal.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Lettuce Contemplate

Lettuce grows pretty quickly.

You'd think I'd remember little things like that.

But when I started the cabbages and broccoli I also started some lettuce seeds, thinking I would plant them out in the garden with all of the other stuff.

However, lettuce grows quickly. By the time I plant the cabbages in the garden in two or three weeks, the lettuce will be getting close to a mature size, hardly the time to transplant them. I could put them in the garden now, but the way it hasn't been raining, I'd need to water them frequently. Watering plants in pots on the porch is much easier than dragging the hose out to the garden.

And we're still getting the occasional night with temps in the 20s... too cold for young lettuce that's been pampered in cozy conditions.

So I put all my lettuces in pots on the front porch. Although they're all in the house right now, since the low temperature tomorrow morning is supposed to be in the mid-20s. Lettuce adapts well to lower light levels, making it a good vegetable for a semi-shady porch or garden spot.

The above photo is one of my rather large lettuce babies. They are a Batavian variety, Concept. I first grew this variety a couple of years ago and fell in love with their full and beautiful form. It's similar in form to romaine, but more beautiful. When this baby grows up, I'll send you a picture.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Do not Adjust your Screen...

The scene this morning... Snowy.
Giant flakes falling, floating, caressing...
I love surprises such as this (unless this were July, then, not so much loving the snow; but it's still February).
The snow on the ground was gone by noon. The afternoon was lovely -- partly sunny and in the 50s.
I'll be back in the garden tomorrow... What will I find?

P.S. The plastic-covered low tunnel in this pic has kale growing inside. I put blankets over the kale weeks ago, when the temperature was set to drop below zero -- which it did. Last week I removed the blankets and found some of the kale still alive. It was a ghostly pale yellow due to lack of sun, but alive. I left the ends slightly open to vent out heat, since we were getting sunshine and highs in the 70s.
The other night when the forecast predicted a low of 28 I didn't bother to close the ends because kale can take 28 degrees without breaking a sweat. Not so sure how the 15 degrees we actually experience affected it, but it was undercover and the ground is warmish. I haven't looked yet because I've had other priorities, but I'm hoping for early kale. Guess I should also check the spinach, which has no cover, but is surround by a cushy hay mulch. Early spinach, yay.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ch-ch-ch-changes...

No barefoot gardening today!

The white stuff looks like a mix of sleet, snow and heavy frost. Our temperature dropped to 15 degrees F.  by early morning, much lower than the upper 20s the National Weather Service had forecast. These surprise lily leaves don't look fazed, though.

Yesterday was much chillier than the previous days this week. You might think I'd be disappointed that the weather turned colder, but the brisk air actually felt good... quite invigorating. I didn't work outside at all, but was in and out for various things. We saw a bit of sleet and rain and snow yesterday, as well, just enough to say that precipitation fell, but not enough to do much good. It did create this pretty ground covering, though, which disappeared almost as soon as the sun peaked over the trees.

This coming week appears to be cooler, yet still warm for February -- oh, wait, it's almost March. Maybe the 50s is a bit March-like.

For the past two or three weeks I've been itching to put seeds in the ground outside. With March coming it, it's now an appropriate time to plant things that like chilly weather, such as peas and spinach, radishes and kale. This coming week I'll start my peppers and eggplant, and the following week I'll seriously considering starting tomatoes. I always feel the time slipping away more rapidly than it actually is passing, because I'm looking forward in order to plan my plantings. Before I know it, we'll be sweltering in the middle of summer and I'll go, "hey, what happened to spring?!"

I guess I'd better pull myself back to Now, before it's too late, and enjoy the brisk wind and spits of snow. There will be time later to enjoy the labor and then the fruits of it, when later is Now.






Thursday, February 23, 2017

Barefoot again... for a little while

Yesterday I worked barefoot in the garden. It's not something I typically do in February, but it's been exceptionally warm this month. I could have been barefoot several days before, but it just didn't seem right somehow.

I don't remember when we let it go out, but we have not had a fire in our stove all week. I've enjoyed not being awakened by the alarm so I can feed the fire at least twice through the night. I've enjoyed not dealing with the mess created by heating with wood. That won't last, though. Tonight will be the last night for a while that I can sleep without getting up to tend the fire. It will be chilly in here in the morning, but it's not supposed to fall below 40 tonight. So I'd rather wait until morning to light the fire and sleep through one more night.

Not only has the weather been unusually warm, it has been dry. Several times chances of rain have past by with little more than a spit. We missed it again this morning. We have another chance this weekend, but I'm not hopeful. I watered the blueberries and strawberries on Tuesday and am wondering whether this is a trend for the year, or whether things will change.

I know what this beautiful February weather signifies -- climate change. Anyone who denies it has not looked out the window in decades. Recently I read a headline -- just the headline -- for an article about that change, and it is more worrisome than anything else I've read. But I refuse to let that worry rule me. I am here now. I can enjoy life now. Proper actions can change the predictions.

Regardless, I will focus on now, and enjoying the beautiful weather, and working outdoors in a t-shirt, with my feet bare.... in February. I will give my love to the earth and all her children and be here now. I will be happy that a friend of mine is sowing wildflower seeds. I will continue to teach people how to put seeds in the soil and tend them. I am not hiding, I will quietly do what I can to help prevent the most dire predictions.

I have faith that each spring the flowers will bloom and the seeds will sprout... until they don't. And I will be here until I'm not. Just like the bright little winter aconite blossoms at the beginning of this post, basking in the sun, enjoying their brief existence here.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Springing up

It's spring!
Yeah, I know, it's the middle of February.
The weather, though, is very springlike... mid- to late-springlike.
I discovered these little crocus popping up in front of the house a few days ago. Since then they've opened to full and I've found more things starting to pop through the ground, like a tiny cluster of winter aconite. Is that all the winter aconite I'll have this year? Last year several clusters were scattered about. I hope a few more appear.

With such warm weather over this past week and more in the forecast, I am seriously considering putting some seeds in the ground. I might start with spinach, since it much prefers sprouting in cooler soil. Yesterday I moved some of the hay mulch and found lovely little spinach plants where I'd planted them last fall -- not many, because I had trouble getting much germination, but we'll have a bit of early spinach. Carrots, beets and a few others also might get planted, whatever stands a chance of surviving if we get some late cold weather in April. I hesitate planting, though, because it has also been very dry -- not a good companion for being unusually warm.

Even though the weather is springlike, I am still in the midst of winter chores. Last week I pruned the elderberries -- severely pruned them. Yet I wonder if that was even severe enough. At least they won't get quite so overgrown this year. Elderberries can get a little unruly. They send up multiple suckers throughout the growing season. If I can keep up with cutting back the suckers I don't want through mid- to late-spring, I can keep some moderate control. The suckers slow down during the summer. That can be a tricky prospect since spring is the time I've got so much other stuff to do, but I do my best.

I love my elderberries, which are the native species and grow as large shrubs. The berries make a wondrous jam and provide many nutrients, as well as being touted as a flu preventative. Most of the research in this area has been done on products made with the European elder berry (Sambucus nigra), but the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is considered to possess similar properties. The flavor of the berry doesn't lend well to fresh eating, especially since the seed contains a toxin that can cause digestive issues, so they shouldn't be eaten fresh in more than small handful doses. However, the toxin is destroyed by heat, so cooked, ripe berries are perfectly safe and lend themselves well to cooked dishes, especially when blended with other, sweeter fruits.

My elderberry jam is seasoned with cinnamon, clove and cardamom, and acidified with lemon juice, which complements the elderberry's flavor nicely. I sweeten with honey, in much lower quantities than typical jam and jelly recipes require. When I use those larger amounts of sweetener I taste nothing but sugar. The point of jams and jellies is to taste the fruit. So I use a pectin that gels with low sugar quantities or no sugar at all. One combination that I've found to be quite nice is to mix gooseberries with the elderberries. Love it.

The European elder has a great history and is the subject of much legend and folklore, which I will discuss in a future post. The magical and medicinal associations with the elderberry were what first got me interested in growing it. But it's also a gorgeous shrub, especially when it blooms mid-summer. My enthusiasm for it does not diminish at all when I'm constantly pruning out suckers in an attempt to keep it from taking over everything. I am quite drawn to plants that take care of themselves so well and force me to stay present enough to notice when I must whack out something. I can't really expect everyone to understand my love for this plant, so I won't try to explain it. However, I will offer more information at a later date. In the meantime, those of you who are in my region and freaking out over the unusually warm weather -- Relax, Enjoy. Freaking out won't change it. Just enjoy the pretty flowers.


Sunday, February 12, 2017


We've had a busy week full of physical, outdoor labor. The week ended with us unloading bales of straw and hay on Saturday evening.

I knelt on top of the stack of bales in the back of the F-350 truck, getting a rare overview of the garden. The raised beds ran straight and tidy, most of them freshly mulched, and ready for spring planting. In one glance I saw the sharply pruned stand of elderberries and the freshly trimmed and weeded figs. A little ramshackle fence, still under construction, creates a pretend barrier along the back edge of the garden, where I've started to clean up last year's weediness.The sun shone golden through a veil of thin clouds, behind the leaf-bare woods near our house. Towels laundered in the morning still waved on the clothesline. Even the compost area looked attractive from this angle.

The day had been unusually warm for February, above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Almost hot in the middle of the month when 45 degrees usually feels warm. A light breeze brought in cooler air as gray light settled over it all.

An unmistakeable feeling settled into me. Peace. This is why I live here, why I live this life... for these rare moments of peace as the sun yawns and spreads golden light that fades to gray. The peacefulness that follows a day of physical labor spent with the man I love.

I wish I could have taken a photo of that moment to share, but that would have shown nothing of what I felt. A picture can be worth a thousand words, but in moments like these a picture is worthless. All you would be able to see are the things, the surroundings. Invisible are the silence, the sense of home built by a decade of working and loving the land, the barely chill touch of the breeze after a hot day, the memories of cabbages and sweet potatoes and rabbits all raised on this place, the frustrations and triumphs... all of these things and more congealed into a moment of tranquility nestled within a very unpeaceful world.

I would love to bring that peace and tranquility to all of you, but we must find our own peace. Living the country life is not required for one to find this tranquility. Such peacefulness does not come from somewhere outside of us, but from within.
If you find yourself in a state of turmoil because of events occurring around you, whether personal or public, look deep into the twilight on some warm winter evening, or deep into an icy landscape, or deep into anything that surrounds you, even a cityscape, until you find the reflection of your own, true self. Then know peace. Be peace.

Now back to my regularly scheduled frantic pace...
I couldn't bring you a photo of inner peace, so instead I headed this post with something that excites me... baby cabbages newly emerged from their seed enclosures. The earth is stirring, ready to awaken, blades of crocus sprout where soon I will find yellow and purple blossoms. Winter is not gone, but Spring is tugging on its pants, getting ready.
I also hope to later bring you more info about growing those elderberry shrubs I mentioned earlier. I can't promise to tell you anything about growing figs. Even after years of watching the fig trees grow, I still don't know much about cultivating them. I haven't ever gotten a ripe and tasty fig from them. But elderberries, I can tell you things about elderberries.