Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Blooming rosemary; new aloe growth

The color of this week's Rosemary blooms are amazing against the dark green leaves, aren't they? Compare the pale, pale green of new aloe shoots, nestled in the brown remains of last summer's lemongrass. I feel like I am deep in winter, but things are changing all over in my garden. My Indian Hawthorne shrubs have large, swelling buds at the tips of every branch. The winter weeds in the lawn are starting to really put on some growth. I found an excellent use for the mouse ear chickweed: the hens think it is candy. Yesterday my apple and pear trees were pruned pretty severely. I had help from a true fruit tree expert, as I am trying to get them to the central leader shape that is best for production, light penetration, and air movement through the trees. They were in bad enough shape that not all the pruning could be done in one year. I will make some additional shaping cuts this summer, and then complete the rest of the major pruning next winter. The trees are about 5 years old, so they still have plenty of time to recover and start producing again.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hen personality close up

It has been a few days now, and even though we have not had many daylight hours with the new hens, we are starting to recognize their individual personalities. As you can tell from the photo, Pauline, the Black Star, is the inquisitive one of the bunch. She is very people friendly and always the first to check out anything new. Lou, the cream and red hen (I now think she is probably a Red Star, but still don't know for sure), is the pretty, mean girl. She pecks at the others and even will fly at them a bit if she thinks they are getting something she wants. Hilda is our big Rhode Island Red girl who just minds her own business.

Because of the big dogs and the cold weather they have been spending lots of time packed into the one small nesting box, so when I went to clean it out today there was a solid layer of chicken manure. I was surprised to see, however, that the manure was just sitting on top of the straw. Once I removed the very top layer, all the straw underneath was clean and dry. I felt pretty badly about those conditions, but they had a lovely clean coop as well. I do keep seeing HIlda on the perch in the house, so hopefully they soon will be comfortable enough to spend their time in the coop rather than the nest. I want that nest nice and clean when it comes time to lay those eggs. The hens make very soothing noises; it feels nice to spend time near their run. They are waiting in line in the morning when we open the door from the coop to the run. It's a pretty sight to watch them march out one by one. I hope they are as happy with us as we are with them.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Brussel sprouts; bolted arugula

I have only 2 brussel sprout plants in the garden, but I wanted to show you how they grow. For those of you who haven't grown brussel sprouts, they are a cool season crop; these plants haven't shown any stress from our bouts of weather in the low 20s. As a matter of fact, one of the plants has a leaf positioned perfectly to catch and hold rain, and each time it freezes there is a beautiful shimmering teardrop of ice cupped in that leaf. You can't see the sprouts themselves unless you pull the leaves aside and look at the main stalk; they form at the base of each leaf. The sprouts at the bottom of the plant mature first, then the next ones up, and so on. You simply cut or twist the sprouts off the plant as they mature, leaving the rest of the plant to keep growing and producing.

My arugula, however, is telling me that it is done and needs to be removed from the garden. It has started to bolt (send up flower stalks instead of leaves). Now all of its energy will go into flower stalks, flowers and seeds. At this stage it will not provide any more good greens, so I will pull it out and prepare that spot for spring planting. I wonder if the hens will like the spent arugula plants? The arugula photo is on the top, the brussel sprout on the bottom.

Monday, January 21, 2008

They're here!

Meet the newest members of Soundharvest: Pauline, Louise, and Hilda. They are all huddled together in the single nesting box portion of their new house. They were much happier, eating, drinking and scratching, before my big goofy dog decided to bark at them. Hopefully they all will get used to one another fairly quickly. I was going to wait for a better picture, but I just couldn't stand it; I had to introduce them. The black pullet, Pauline, is a black star. I think the dark red is either a red star or a Rhode Island Red. The pale red with cream is an unknown right now, possibly a buff Leghorn? I'll be able to tell more when I get a chance to really examine each one. They have a few greens from the garden, some feed pellets, and fresh water. They have sand in their run, wood shavings in their perch area, and straw in the nesting box/hideout. I'm using a rabbit feeder mounted on the wire pen to feed them, as it seems to be big enough for only three, and essentially takes no ground space. I also scattered some feed around the sand so they could scratch for it. They marched right in and immediately started eating and drinking. They even found their way into the house and looked around, then came back out. All of this, of course, before the Big Bark incident. I am absolutely thrilled to have them home. They hatched in October, so I think I can expect my first egg sometime between March 1 and April 1. Aren't they beautiful?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Clean up and compost

Today I took some time to clean up those plants from the garden that had died back or had been severely damaged in the recent freeze. Hidden among the slimy remains of frozen fava bean branches and brown lettuce were a couple of good heads of leaf lettuce, which I happily harvested. You can see them in the photo, along with the materials removed from the garden and the remaining beautiful kale in the background. The bucket of dead and damaged materials are perfect for compost, but sadly I do not have an active compost pile right now. I have not started one because my yard is full of the noxious weed pennywort, and there is no location where I can put a compost pile that the weed won't move in. Once pennywort is in the compost I can't use it in any garden. However, I think I may have a solution: composting in a closed worm bed for a majority of my excess plant materials, and feeding some to the new hens that should be moving in this week. Now I need to look into worm bin designs and decide how to proceed. Hopefully the next photo posted will be of our new hens. Oh, and wish me luck: we are in for another bitter night.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Nothing to do but order seeds

We are in for a week or two of cold and wet weather here on the coast. It will be too cold to open the hives to check the bees and too wet to work the soil. I will have to comfort myself by looking through beautiful garden catalogs and ordering seeds! Yesterday I actually ordered some fingerling (small at maturity) seed potatoes (potatoes with eyes that will mature into new potato plants). Last year I waited too late and everyone was sold out of the fingerlings that I wanted to try. I don't want to devote room in my raised beds to potatoes, so I either will put them into the ornamental bed out front that still gets plenty of sun (the new maple tree just isn't that big yet), or I will make a wire cylinder and plant them there. If I go that route I will post photos for you.

Although I haven't made any final varietal decisions, I know that I will plant sugar snap peas, tomatoes, beans, squash, cucumbers, basil, parsley, beets, hot peppers, and carrots. Last year I had great luck with my tomatoes, and disastrous results with my squash and cucumbers (borers got every vine). Who knows what this year will bring? My only small garden regret, which I feel most deeply while looking at seed catalogs, is that I have no space for sweet corn.

Friday, January 11, 2008

My chickens are coming home to roost; Kale and brocolli ready

I am very excited because I think I have found a local source for three laying hens for the mini coop! The chickens are 5 month old pullets, and if all goes well I will see them and pick three to bring home on January 21. I should be able to harvest the first eggs in a few months. The pictures above were taken this morning, of kale and broccoli that will be harvested this weekend. The variety of broccoli is supposed to produce a number of small heads over a longer time, rather than a main head followed by side shoots. These were planted very late and were direct seeded in the garden (not by transplants), so this will be the first harvest. The plants had drooped terribly after last week's heavy freeze, but perked back up in about 4 days. One other delayed damage from the freeze: all of the leaves on my very small grapefruit tree were killed. I won't know about the tree itself until the spring. My tangerine and orangequat, which are 3 years old and pretty good sized now, only lost young leaves and the tips of branches. The leaves and branches that were damaged were young and tender: the result of the 70 degree weather in December.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

LIfe in the yard 2 days after temps dropped below 25

Well, our temperatures dropped to at least 25 degrees two nights in a row this week, and did not rise above freezing for 24 hours of that time. Also, while the garden plants were frozen solid, we had a wind of 35 knots that blew directly against my little garden beds. The remaining lettuce and most of the fava beans turned black and essentially melted to the ground. The kale, collards, beets and carrots were not affected. My favorite discovery is the way the fava beans responded to damage: they already have put out fresh new shoots from the ground to replace the larger growth that was killed outright or at least heavily damaged. I never have seen anything like it in the vegetable garden. I think these new shoots will grow more slowly for the rest of the winter, and will therefore be better able to handle upcoming cold weather. I now an excited to think that I may have fava beans in the spring, despite even bitter weather.

The bees also came out this afternoon, as temperatures rose to close to 70 degrees! I don't understand what they may be finding, especially after our plummeting temperatures this week, but they were bringing in loads of dark orange pollen. They never stop amazing me. Both hives still feel pretty heavy, but I will be keeping a close eye on them to make sure they do not risk starvation as winter settles in. I did put clean sticky boards in the hives to close off the screened bottom boards the evening before this cold front, and have left them in for now. I think that the extra draft protection may be necessary when we have temperatures in the 20s, especially with strong winds. I hope these two hives make it through their first winter.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ornamental beds; winter weeds; losing palm

Right now there is a big difference between my well mulched ornamental beds and the one bed that never got mulch. The mulched beds are almost weed free, while the bed with bare soil is filled with winter weeds. You can see the difference in these pictures. The majority of the weeds I am seeing right now are Poa annua (annual blue grass), Coronopus didymus (swinecress), and Oenothera liciniata (cutleaf eveningprimrose), but there are many others out there. These are winter annual weeds that sprouted from seeds in very late summer or early fall. They will stay green through the winter and then produce a new crop of seeds in the spring for next year. To break the cycle I need to get control of the weeds now, before they seed again. Even then, I expect seeds in the soil to continue to sprout for many years; hopefully a few less each year.
In addition to the weeds, I also noted that the new center two leaves of my Butia capitata (jelly palm) had turned brown. When gently pulled, they slid right out, wet and rotten at the bottom. They either were killed by the freeze that came a few weeks ago after a period of very warm weather, or by drowning from the heavy rains that came after a year of drought. The palm is in a very poorly drained spot. I knew it was at risk there, but hoped that, since I planted it very young, it would adapt to the location. However, the sharp jump from very dry to saturated for a long time seems to have taken its toll. I think that the whole growing tip may be lost. If so, this palm is gone.