Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Spring is Here... Not

The sunsets this past week have seemed particularly colorful. I've wondered if it didn't have something to do with   the recent solar flare. Last Wednesday's sunset contained exceptionally intense oranges and yellows. We were driving home from Kansas City at the time, thus driving right into the sunset. I wished that I had my camera. However, I did capture the above photo of Friday's sunset, just as the sun disappeared behind the hills.

Winter sunsets always seem more colorful than summer sunsets. Most likely that is due to the angle at which the light falls upon the earth. These colorful sunsets might just be reminders that it is still winter, although yesterday's high was in the mid-60s (Fahrenheit). While these warm temperatures mean it doesn't feel like winter it doesn't really FEEL like spring yet. But we're getting close.

Groundhog Day is coming soon, alternately known as Imbolc, Oimealg or Bride's Day in early Celtic days and Candlemas in more recent times. In some more moderate climates, this once marked the first plowing of the fields. Here in Kansas, the fields are typically still frozen (though not this year) at this time, although we might have a brief thaw with spring-like weather that makes our green thumbs itch to be planting. Or the ground might be covered with snow and ice.

I might not be plowing on Groundhog Day, but I could be out digging more blackberries and I already have new things sprouting. I planted cabbages and whatnot on Thursday last week, and they are already stretching toward the light.

The amaryllis also is getting ready to unfold its first blossoms of the year. While most people buy these lily relatives as temporary house plants, I have kept mine for quite a few years. They spend the summer outdoors on the north side of the house, and come in for the winter when the nights start freezing on a regular basis. They don't need regular repotting, as they bloom best when in tight quarters.

Today I start onions and leeks. Next week, peppers and eggplants. Why doesn't it feel like spring?

Happy Groundhog Day.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hazardous Weather Outlook

Photo of a controlled burn several years ago.
The National Weather Service forecast site had a "hazardous weather outlook" notification this morning.
After weeks and weeks of no serious amount of moisture, I get really excited when I see this. Finally, some rain.
But, no. It was yet another "high fire danger" warning. Dry weather, plus dry grass, plus low humidity, plus more dry weather, plus wind equals high fire hazard. I'm getting tired of this. All of the hazardous weather outlooks this past month have been fire hazards. When is it going to rain? Maybe tomorrow. Thirty percent chance. Come on, rain!

When will I see the next one of these?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hoar Frost

Finally, we are seeing a few days of true winter. No blowing snow, but colder temperatures, albeit not the usual January frostiness.

Yesterday morning the low fell to about 10 degrees F. and the world was sparkling and white with frost, not just any old sugar coating of frost, but the kind in which large ice crystals create a prickly covering over things. You can see the prickles on this bit of grape vine, pointy and blade-like.

And here is a bit of a closer look at the icy prickles.

 The black gazing ball in the garden was covered with frost. When I first went out with the camera, the sun had cleared the trees only a short time earlier, and you could see a spot on the ball where the sun's rays were just beginning to melt the frost on its surface.

I spent another 5, maybe 10 minutes snapping more frosty shots, such as this closeup of the native big bluestem grass at the top of this post.

And this one of naked, frost covered blueberry bushes glowing in the morning sun.

It was actually quite pleasant in the garden, although the temperature was still in the low 20s. A light breeze brushed against my hair and the air was soft. By the time I had completed my photo shoot, the sun had cleared nearly half of the gazing ball of frost, in just a few minutes.

My final morning task in the garden was to remove the blankets from the plastic-covered low tunnels housing my winter lettuce crop, so the sun could heat them up.

Later that afternoon I harvested lettuce -- 3 pounds of it. My original intent was to clear cut the bed and let the lettuce that will regrow do its thing. However, I filled one large basket with lettuce before I had cut a quarter of the rows. Instead of cutting more, I watered the December-planted radish seedlings growing among the lettuce and called it good. It looks like I will harvest fresh lettuce in February this year.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Banish online censorship bills SOPA and PIPA. Keep information free and flowing.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Snow on the Strawberries, Almost

First real snow of this winter.
I knew I was in trouble when I received an e-mail saying that my order of strawberry plants would be shipped on Jan. 9.

But the high temperature was consistently hitting the 50s at the time. No problem. I can just plant them, I figured.

One of the frozen strawberry beds. The green is a not-too-successful
cover of Austrian winter peas.
Then the FedEx van appeared at my door today. The temperature had just crept above 20 degrees (that's Fahrenheit), a 20-mile-per-hour wind was blowing, and snow is on the ground. Not exactly strawberry planting weather.

In two days, the high will hit the upper 40s and Sunday and Monday will be in the 50s, before the temp falls again (It's roller coaster season). I'll be able to plant them soon. Just not today or tomorrow. What do I do with them in the meantime?

The instructions accompanying the two bundles (25 bare root plants each) of strawberries said to plant right away or to "heel them in," which is a temporary planting, until I can get them to the permanent location. If the weather was such that I could heel them in, I would just plant them. The two new strawberry beds are ready. Except that they are covered with snow.

I called the toll-free number on the instruction sheet and asked if I could just leave them in their plastic bag and put them in the refrigerator.
"No. They'll get moldy," she told me.
Fifty (count 'em, 50) bareroot strawberry plants.
Can I put them in a paper bag in the fridge?
"The refrigerator is too damp. Put them in sawdust, or compost and set them in an unheated garage."
Well, I've got an unheated garage, but no sawdust and the compost is outside, under the snow, in the bitter cold. "Can I just wrap them in damp newspaper and keep them in the garage?" I asked.
"Sure." Was the reply.

Great. I've got newspaper. Now my strawberries are in the garage waiting to get planted. Then I will cover them with mulch and wait for spring. The varieties are Eclair and Eversweet, one is a June-bearer, the other everbearing. I selected them for the reportedly good taste and disease resistance. Maybe I will get the strawberry growing thing right this time. We'll see when the snow melts.

Rosemary is shivering in the snow.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Wood be Winter or Spring

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny, warm spring day and the smell of freshly split oak wood was in the air.

My husband has been buying wood for next winter, maybe for the next two winters. It seems likely that we won't use up all the stores of wood we have for this one. In the spring, we bought two cords of hedge wood. With this warm winter, we have hardly used any of it. Hedge burns too hot to just take the chill out of the air.
Yesterday I started transplanting the blackberries. First, I turned part of this blackberry tangle into blackberry stubble. I dug up only a small part of it and took the plants to the bottom of the hill, where we have a nice bed waiting for them. I would have done this in the fall, but it was so dry. It's still dry, but spring is coming, and I hope so are the spring rains. This project will take quite a while, though.

On Wednesday I picked a basketful of young Red Russian Kale that, after steaming, tastes like pure sugar. Oh so yummy. I also picked a large basketful of lettuce, almost but not quite cleaning out one of the two lettuce beds. Some of the Royal Oakleaf lettuce I harvested weeks ago is starting to grow back. I also planted spinach in both of the lettuce beds, hoping it will start growing sometime in the next month and give us an early spring crop. The arugula isn't big enough to harvest, but tiny leaves in the center of each plant are still green, a promise for spring...

If it isn't spring already. I keep expecting it to pop up around the corner. Very few of the winter projects I have planned have been done or even started. Ok, the garage got cleaned, finally. The problem is that the few winter projects I have completed or started require a lot of time, meaning only a few projects will get done. Oh well, maybe next winter.... right...

Well, I am almost ready to start planting again. I spent this morning online ordering seeds and have another list of seeds to purchase from local nurseries and stores, as soon as the seed racks are out. I spent one day this past week checking dates and moon signs and phases, then noting on a calendar the ideal times to start my seeds and plant things in the garden. I find planting by the moon signs a good way to schedule planting, but once I start planting outdoors, I often must abandon it. The weather interferes. Other activities interfere.

In spite of the spring-like weather, however, my mind is still in winter mode. No reason to start rushing about in the garden, yet. Save that for later. In the meantime, I take a few moments each day to drink in the golden winter light at sunset.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


So, it's 2012.
The weather has been quite warm for December/January in Kansas. While other people are freaking out, I am glad I don't have to deal with snow this winter.

Snow is quite beautiful (see photo above from last year) but we had snow on the ground for much of the last three winters and I am quite happy to do without it for once. On the warmer days we let the fire in the stove die out and use our winter store of wood less rapidly. The birds don't empty the feeders as quickly in warmer weather, which is good, since drought to the south has made the price of black oil sunflower seeds jump by almost 50 percent.

My husband has not put the chains on the tractor yet because he has not had to clear snow from our long and in one place quite steep driveway. At least last year we had the tractor to clear the snow, unlike the previous years. We bought the chains after the first major snow last winter, because our small tractor is not heavy enough get the necessary traction to completely climb the steepest part of the driveway in packed snow. It slid backward down the long, steep hill. Sliding backward downhill with no steering control, a pond on one side and a rather deep ditch on the other side is exciting, to say the least.

Anyway -- no ice storms putting the power out for a week (December 2007), no Christmas Eve blizzards (driving home in that was "fun"), no getting stuck in the new snow at the driveway entrance (fortunately, the wind had died and the full moon came out, so the quarter mile walk to the house was actually quite pleasant).

I will take this weather, thank you very much... this year. Just bring on a bit of rain, please.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

The last sunset of 2011 was not terribly spectacular. No brilliant purples or flaming oranges. Just a bit of yellow in the sky as the sun sat upon the horizon and a little pink when it sank below.

I spent part of the last day of the year picking lettuce. It has been quite a warm winter for northeast Kansas and the lettuce has gotten quite robust. I worry that we won't use it all before it becomes too mature. Either I worry it will freeze or worry it will grow too fast. The greens -- kale, collards, etc. -- also got watered on the last day of the year. They looked a bit droopy.

The temperature got up into the 60s on the last two days of the year, so we let the fire go out. By yesterday evening, it was feeling pretty chilly in the house, so we lit it again and it has burned since. Warmth from one year into the next.

Now it's time for me to gather seeds and schedule my planting, starting with the brussels sprouts, which I will probably start indoors in late January for late spring/early summer maturation. Then I will do some later ones to mature in the autumn, after a couple of frosts, since that is when all the cole crops are at their tastiest.

Here is hoping your new year is an abundant one.