Thursday, November 17, 2022

Brief Snowy Wonderland

This happened a couple of days ago. White stuff fell overnight, disguising the brown winter shades. By late afternoon the above-freezing temperature and intermittent sun had wiped it all away, except for a few shaded patches.

The next day I was out weeding and turning compost. 

Tonight we'll huddle deep in our warmth against an overnight low in the mid-teens Fahrenheit. We'll have a few days of that, with one day not even breaking the freezing mark for the high. 

On Monday it might be almost springlike, with a high in the 50s. 

Ah, this fickle weather.

I had hoped to keep a few things going in the garden... kale, lettuce, cabbage, radicchio... but the extra cold forced me to bring it all in. In times past, the teens waited until December, but we can no longer count on what used to be considered "normal." (Pssst. It's climate change.)

Yet, I will persevere and adapt however I can. It's all I can do. As climate change surges ahead, adaptability will mean the difference between some success and total failure.

I have not preached on climate change, but I am very aware that it is here. I want you all to be aware, as well... not terrified, that has no value, but aware. We can do something.

I suggest checking out the Cool Block program. It was designed for urban communities, but we and some of our neighbors have been trying to adapt it to the rural setting. Our biggest challenge has been that most of us have already done a lot to decrease our carbon footprint, so the program seems a bit redundant. However, we have found value in the stronger sense of community we have developed among us. And we are adapting the curriculum to suit our particular group and circumstances. The part on emergency preparedness has been quite valuable.

This program would be more valuable to people who have only dabbled with reducing their carbon footprint. Yet, the emergency preparedness part and community building can be valuable to anyone. It is missing info on climate activism, but maybe you can find other sources for that. And now that we have federal tax incentives for installing solar power and other energy-saving measures, we can do more.

Go in peace, friends. Keep smiling, keep going, keep hoping... most of all, keep gardening. 

Friday, November 11, 2022

Laid to Rest

Buckets and buckets of leeks, and still more to pull. They'll stay in the garage until I can trim them.

 The temperature this morning was 25 degrees Fahrenheit. This followed Thursday's high of around 70 degrees F. For at least the next week the forecast calls for lows in the 20s, and at least one low in the teens.

So I've called it quits. The garden has been generous and I'm ready for a little hibernation. It was time to pull all the leeks and radishes, chop off the heads of cabbages and radicchio, and, finally, cut the lettuce and arugula. I even cut all the kale and cilantro. I spent three days doing all of this. The garden is done.


But I'm not. The cabbage roots are still in the ground, their large lower leaves splayed out. Eventually, I'll put them in the compost heap. Kale stems also still stand... perhaps if I leave them they'll come back in the spring? It's happened before.

The ground where the leeks grew must be smoothed and covered with hay, same with the bed that held the purple daikon radishes.

All of the beds need to be tidied. The plastic hoops that held up row cover and shade cloth stand uselessly in the ravaged garden and should be put away. 

Purple daikons and my not-bare foot.

I haven't even yet taken down the trellis that the long bean vines climbed, even though it's been at least a month since I pulled the vines.

Once the growing areas are tidied up and mulched with hay (if I can find any spoiled hay to buy for my mulch) I can move on to other projects.

For example, I had hoped to have dug all the unwelcomed plants from my little sweetgrass prairie last winter, as well as digging all the apothecary rose from the corner of the strawberry compound. -- I love the apothecary rose, but it needs better containment so it doesn't invade the strawberry beds. -- I started both projects last winter, but weather intervened. Then spring planting prevented me from making much headway. Of course, summer always brings its own busy-ness.

I did make a little headway, but all are far from done.

And the paths must be weeded, again, so my husband can lay fresh wood chips. The garden continues to beckon...

... and so does the kitchen. Both are crammed with the last of the harvest. Something must be done. We'll make cabbage curries and maybe some sauerkraut. I wound up with 21 heads out of the 30 plants I set in the ground. A few plants just didn't make it, and some just didn't make heads. For whatever reason, maybe the heat, the cabbages developed slowly, so they were all fairly small, but still lovely heads. Some are not much bigger than my fist and a few are smaller, more like giant brussels sprouts, but still dense and firm. 

Radicchio, Rossa de Verona.

More than a dozen heads of red and white radicchio made their way into my harvest basket. Not everyone likes this bitter relative of chicory, but I have learned to love bitter foods... they're really good for the digestion. I like to chop a little radicchio into salads. Vinegar and oil tames the bitterness -- at least my tastebuds think so. And I've found that I really like radicchio sauteed in ghee with leeks and carrots. It feels nourishing. 

And on and on... we even still have apples in the refrigerator drawers. Baked apples? More apple butter?

The garden has been laid to rest, even though I'm not getting much rest. And next year's garden is already growing. Last month I planted garlic. The rows are now marked with little green garlic shoots soaking up sunlight to make bulbs for me to dig next summer. The circle is unbroken.


Friday, November 4, 2022

Compost Happens


For the past few weeks -- maybe even the past couple of months -- I have been eyeing the compost piles, eager to stick a shovel in them.

Working compost might not seem like the most glamorous job in the garden, but I find it very satisfying.

Dead plant materials -- weeds, garden debris, kitchen scraps -- go into a heap, and plant nutrition comes out. Stuff that no longer serves, becomes something of value.

What happens is this:

Becomes this:   

In between the two, trillions and trillions of microscopic organisms -- mainly bacteria and fungi -- live, eat, excrete and die. They break it all down into essential parts by "eating" it (generally through chemical processes, not with teeth), and they excrete it into nutrients plants can use. The best compost is still alive when you apply it to the garden soil, where the microorganism populations shift to different species and set up shop, creating mutually beneficial relationships with the plants.

It's a magical, alchemical process that never ceases to amaze me.

While decomposition is a natural process that occurs without our intervention, we can enhance the process to make the highest quality product possible, as well as to speed up the process.

The most basic "recipe" for compost is to have the proper amounts of "browns" (carbon-containing materials) and "greens" (nitrogen-containing materials). All plant matter contains both carbon and nitrogen, but some contain a higher ratio of carbon to nitrogen and vice versa. The "best" way to build your compost pile is to layer the greens and browns, setting aside the carbon materials to scoop on top of your green materials (such as kitchen scraps) when you add them. Some plant materials, such as comfrey and yarrow enhance the decomposition process and improve the nutritional value of the compost.

All the official recipes aside, I simply pile stuff in the bin, then when enough is enough, I rebuild it, layering and watering as I can.

Composting requires living organisms that need water and oxygen. Dry decomposition does occur, but the end product has little value. Anaerobic (without oxygen) microbes also decompose things, but that gets smelly and doesn't produce top quality compost. The compost heap must remain damp -- not soggy, or that anaerobic process occurs -- and be "turned" occasionally to get air into the mix. Turning can be anything from chopping into the pile with a sharp spade, to digging everything out of the middle, pulling the edges into the middle and putting the stuff from the middle on the edges. Whew! That was a lot of work.

I simply rebuild my heaps in spring and fall and turn (the laziest way possible) whenever I think about it. 

I use a three bin composting system (working, cooking and finishing piles). The bins are made of old pallets, chicken wire, welded wire fencing and old baling twine. It's not pretty, except when the morning glories climb the walls (see morning glory photo at the top). However, the morning  glories are no longer allowed on the compost bins, because hundreds of seeds fall into the compost, so I have hundreds of morning glory seedlings everywhere I spread the compost. 

If you'd like more info on proper composting, follow this link to the K-State Resources and Extension publication on composting. The Internet also is full of people who are happy to tell you how to do composting "right," or their version of right.

However you do it, compost happens.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Season's End


This was the final harvest of summer vegetables made one week ago.

The weather service had forecast a low in the low 20s Fahrenheit for two nights in a row, with last Monday night being the first. 

I spent that day scrambling, not only to pick the last of the summer vegetables, but also to cover the cold season crops with blankets and sheets, hoping it would be enough to let them survive. Twenty degrees might not kill them, but they wouldn't look pretty afterward, especially since the temps had not gone down gradually enough to allow the plants to prepare for the cold.

It was a long day. I worried that the covers over my kale and lettuce and cabbage would not be enough, but I hoped. Tuesday morning the temperature was 26 degrees F. Not so bad. The next morning it was 20, and that was on our porch right next to the wall of the house.

With rising temperatures and sun that afternoon, plus a more reasonable low forecast for the next morning, I pulled off the sheets and blankets. To my relief, very few leaves sustained cold damage. Even the lettuce, the most tender of them all looked hale and hearty. It was beautiful.

The lettuce had also been covered with shade cloth to protect it from the hot sun, and I left it on as I added the cover of blankets. Since the weather had cooled somewhat, I removed the shade cloth, folded everything up and put it away.

And the deer came during the night and ate down all my lettuce.

I can't fault them, really. It's been dry, dry, dry. The grass is dry and brown and the lettuce was juicy and green. Which would you choose.

They even nibbled at the radicchio! The bitter radicchio. Weird deer.

So I've covered the radicchio, cabbage, and the baby lettuce that they had spared. If we get enough of the appropriate weather, we might have a little lettuce yet. 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Good Morning


Black rat snake high up in a goldenrod plant in front of the house, waiting for the sun.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Beauty in Decay

 I came upon this dancer, broken and gone, yet graceful in her demise. 

There is beauty yet in her decay, life in her death.

Highlighted in snow, one last bow, perpetual, until she collapses into decay.

There is beauty here, yet. Life in her decay.

A rotting corpse feeds the tiniest ones, which in turn feed roots and seeds, feeding stems and leaves.

A single tree no longer one, continuing to live on in many.

The magic, the beauty of the cycle.

Beauty, life, from one many, and on.

PS The day before this photo, when I first saw her, her arms held more snow and made a more striking scene. She was more obvious. But there yet is beauty here.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Snowy Days

 Snow moved in Friday night and blew through Saturday morning. The day was gray and cold, cold, cold. A lovely fog shrouded the world beyond the woods this morning and the afternoon turned sunny.

I went for a walk in the woods, looked for animal tracks (deer, birds, house cat, mouse?), hugged a giant Osage orange tree, and watched the snow that had collected on branches of the red cedar trees melt, sparkle and glitter as it dripped in the sunlight. I came in with twigs and red cedar leaves stuck in my hair. A great afternoon.

In my last post I noted that the germination test on the leek seed was a resounding success. It looked as if all of them had sprouted. Since it's about time to start my leek plants, I planned to go ahead and plant them. 

Three days later I went to do just that and found that not only did all of the seeds have tiny roots poking out, but had produced itty bitty greenery, as well. No problem. I went ahead and planted them anyway. However, instead of just dropping the seeds onto the soil and sort of patting them in, knowing the little roots would know which way to go, I poked holes into the soil and dropped in each seedling one by one. That took a little more time than my original plan would have, but it worked.

Initially I made the little holes with my fingers, and then decided I needed a tool. A chopstick works

nicely for that task. With the tip of the chopstick in view, you can see how tiny the little seedlings were. 

On that same day I started germination tests on some other seeds and checked them yesterday.

The six-year-old Orangeglow watermelon seed germinated 100 percent, it looks like. This seed I collected from watermelon growing in my garden. I am not sure what melons from this seed will be like. I first planted Orangeglow in 2014, along with at least one other melon variety and they likely cross-pollinated. A melon somehow got missed, or I spit seed into the garden, not sure, but a watermelon vine or two grew there the next year. I didn't realize it had produced any melons until I started clearing away cover crop. It was a huge melon, orange and sweet inside.

But I can't depend on that being the case when I plant these seeds. We will see what comes of these. 

I will stick a few of these sprouted seeds in a pot and hope I have a nice little melon plant or two when the Extension Master Gardeners Garden Show comes around in two months. I'm in charge of the Edible Garden table.The watermelon plants might be too leggy and pale for a nice display along with the cabbage plants, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, nasturtiums and begonias. (Begonia flowers are edible.) 

When I started the germ test on the watermelon seeds I also started one on some six-year-old carrot seed (just for fun), six-year-old jalapeno seed and seven-year-old cayenne seed. Only a few seeds of each had put out little tails. It will be interesting to see how many actually sprout. I don't plan to plant any of these seeds, but I was curious to know whether they were still viable.

Besides, what else gardening related is there to do in January?

Start onion and cabbage plants! Buy seeds!