Thursday, December 31, 2009

cut and come again; harvest and plant again

New Year's Eve is a time for fresh starts, and boy is my garden the poster child for optimism and starting fresh, again and again. Here are photos of secondary, or side shoots, from my broccoli plants. These are shoots that develop after the main head has been harvested and eaten. You can get no side shoots or many side shoots, depending on the variety of broccoli you choose. Varieties developed for commercial production are usually poor side shoot producers, as they are bred for one fast harvest and nothing more. I am thrilled to have some side shoots this year, as I was out of town for most of the main broccoli harvest.

Also showing new growth, and this after many, many harvests, are the greens. Here you see a collard plant. Notice the long, naked stalk? That is where all my prior harvests were made. I have harvested the largest, lower leaves of each plant as they develop, leaving the growing tip to produce again and again. They are looking a little odd now: a bouquet of collard leaves on a stalk, but they still taste great and are producing well!

The last photo is of tiny baby kale and lettuce plants. On a whim I planted them from seed very, very late in the season, after all my lettuces had been harvested and eaten. I have thinned them a few times, and they seem to be doing very well. Lets see if they make it through the winter and put on a push of growth when the weather starts to warm. You can see the change in their size each time we get a warmer day.

It is still wet and sloppy in the yard. Did you notice the fresh raindrops on the garden in today's photos? Despite all the rain and wind, the hens are all doing well, and we are back to getting one egg a day, even though it is the darkest days of winter. I did investigate and found that each bee hive has at least some bees in residence (I put my ear to each hive and tapped on the side, and happily heard a hum in response), and the two weakest, Dolly and Loretta, had a good feeding of a gallon of sugar water each about 2 weeks ago. Based on the hum from inside, those two already were up in their top box, meaning they had consumed most if not all of their honey stores. We will feed them again this weekend in hopes they will make it through until the Maple trees bloom.

It's dream time for gardens now, with seed catalogs in the mailbox. I'm looking forward to a fresh new year.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We are all tired of the rain

Two photos: my crape myrtle, to show how beautiful the fall colors of these trees can be. You can select your variety based on flower color, bark color, and fall color (and disease resistance and final tree size). It was worth the effort to me to do some research to find the tree that perfectly fit my needs: lilac flowers, rust tinged bark, and orange and red fall colors. The other photo is of season extending glass cloches in a garden in Williamsburg. We are just now entering our freezing weather for the year, but you can extend your gardening with something this beautiful or something as simple as an old milk jug. You can even cover the whole bed with a garden fabric designed specifically to keep temperatures up and frost off your vegetables. I want some beautiful, hand blown glass covers like these!

My whole yard is wet, really, really wet. In some spots in the lawn you actually sink into mud when you are just walking on the grass. I have to wear boots just to walk up to the gardens, or get mud up the sides of and into my shoes. Just as things start to dry, it rains again, and my shallow hardpan (compacted soil that does not allow water to run through) holds it all at the surface. In the garden the mature broccoli and greens are doing OK, as are the last hot peppers, but the late fall planted garlics are starting to yellow and curl rather than grow strong.

The rain is affecting the creatures who share my gardens as well. The poor hens haven't had a dry spot to stand in for over two months. Even the spot under the hen house that is fully protected is wet from water running under the fence once the lawn got saturated. They have been moulting (losing their feathers, a natural, annual process) but also are listless and not eating nearly their usual amount of food. Imagine having your run muddy for weeks on end! Some straw helps for a little while, but gets incorporated into the mud pretty quickly. They do still get excited, however, for the outer leaves of the broccoli, cabbage and mustard. With the moulting and the short days (less sunlight), they have stopped laying eggs for now. Last week I bought eggs for the first time in over a year. I can barely make myself use them!

The bees, however, have been hardest hit. They can't fly and therefore can't forage or cleanse their systems when it is raining. As a result of the rain they have been trapped in their hives more than usual during the last few months of fall. When I lifted the hives a couple of weeks ago to test their weight, it became obvious that they already have used up most of their winter stores of honey. The two lightest hives have now had one feeding of a 1:1 sugar water mix to try and help carry them over. Yesterday when it was sunny, the youngest hive, Grace, was flying and looked strong. Loretta had one or two bees straggling in and out. Dolly showed no activity. They may be fine and just staying huddled in their winter configuration, but may be lost. I could not bring myself to go tap on the side to listen to see if any bees remain alive there. Maybe this weekend.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I usually do not plant cabbages in my tiny gardens, as they take up so much space and, with only one harvest, give relatively little bang for your buck. However, this year, when I came across some savoy cabbage plants, I purchased four. I have been pulling off the lower, outer leaves and feeding them to the hens for weeks, and they have been so excited to get them! Yesterday I harvested the first big, fat cabbage head for myself, and it is beautiful. Look at that pale, cream interior, the tightly formed head, and those crinkled leaves. Very few indications of insect damage. I think the lizards and toads really did their job this season, eating all the cabbage loopers (caterpillars) that otherwise would have made a mess of this beautiful vegetable.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Clusters of red, clusters of tangerine

I'm not much on house plants. In fact, the only ones I have are Christmas Cacti, one red one and three white ones, which are clones of one another. They live out on the porch all summer and fall, and come inside for the winter. The red one is in full bloom right now, and is amazing. It obviously needs to be renamed a "One Week Before Thanksgiving Cactus." Look at the cluster of blossoms!

I have one other plant which is supporting clusters of beauty. My tangerine tree (variety "Juanita"), which is only 4 years old, is groaning under the weight of it's tangerine crop. I especially love what a neighbor said when I gave her a fruit: "It smells like Christmas." You know what, it does. This is a more cold hardy variety, and lives outdoors, planted in the yard, year around. I have high hopes, as it obviously came through last winter, which was bitter cold for our area, with flying colors.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tidal Flood!

This strange coastal storm has been bringing some high water, but no problems until this morning. As you can see, we have salt water surrounding all the garden beds, and the two lower beds, strawberries and blueberries, are filled with salt water. The tide was only about an inch from the entrance to Dolly's hive. This is more water than we have had with the worst of the hurricanes since we first arrived here in 2000. My only hope for the gardens is that they already were so saturated with rain water that the salt water did not soak in as much as it otherwise would. I expect to lose all of the strawberries and blueberries, but I guess it is possible that some may survive (due to the existing fresh water saturation). As soon as the tide goes down I will rinse the plants and flush the beds as best I can. It was something to be out in the yard at sunrise, with water coming almost over my tall boots while standing near the vegetable gardens! Sorry the quality of the photos is not better, these were taken with my cell phone in the dim, early morning light.

Do note how beautiful the vegetables are in the gardens. We are harvesting and eating fresh lettuces and greens every day. Because I was away so much, I did not get a second planting of lettuce in the ground, so it looks like I will not have a salad from my own garden for Thanksgiving. I will, however, have broccoli, collards, mustard, and savoy cabbage to chose from!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nurturing a different garden

I am away from the gardens for a bit, nurturing my own roots and working on accepting the changing seasons.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The garden is bursting

My bed of broccoli, collards and cabbage is bursting at the seams. The plants are huge and beautiful. Here you see the broccoli in the far back, the dark green heading collards next, the pale green cabbage collards, and, finally, the savoy cabbages. Pests have been kept to a minimum by the work of the lizards and birds, with no real intervention from me. For dinner last night I picked the largest, outer leaves from both Morris heading collards and cabbage collards, stacked them, rolled them, cut them into small shreds (across the rib, so no need to pull the ribs out), and then stir fried them with some hot pepper slices. What a spectacular vegetable dish.

The second bed has those amazing lettuces to do so well only this time of the year. It is tender and beautiful, both red leaf varieties and green butterhead types. The back of the bed is, however, a bit of a problem: the kale seeds I purchased turned out to be mustard greens! Now I like mustard greens ok, but I love kale. I am weighing whether to pull it all out and plant kale, but know that I risk not getting a good stand because it is now so late in the season. What to do?? I'll let you know what I decide.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Waste to wonderful

Although a bit late, I was able to thin my kale and arugula plants this weekend. I pulled out all the extra plants so that there was just one plant every 6 inches or so. The small, leggy plants that I had removed didn't look like much. Here you see them, freshly rinsed, piled in a pan where I had sauteed garlic and red peppers in olive oil. The next photo is the final result: whole grain pasta with sauteed baby greens. Oh my, yes. These thinning did not have enough volume to make a vegetable dish on their own, but that didn't stop them from being the center of an amazing fall meal.

After thinning, I watered the remaining plants with a mixture of rain water and worm castings. I hope this will both help them recover from any root damage caused by the thinning, and will give them a boost. Because I was late in thinning these plants, the remaining ones are leggy and weak, and could not hold themselves upright. Lets see what a few days and some worm juice will do for them!

The hens are so happy that the weather has cooled. For a change, none of the four are moulting right now, and we are occasionally getting four eggs a day, although it is usually only two. I am feeding the ladies all the older, damages leaves from the now huge broccoli, collards, and cabbage plants, and they are thrilled. (My new favorite natural control for cabbage worms on the garden crops: small lizards that have moved into the garden!)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tadpoles and toadstools

The rain brings more than just lush growth in the vegetable garden. Look what I found in a rain flooded ditch! The ditches on both sides of the road were full of rainwater. It was quite clear, and you easily could see the grass through the surface. As I rode my bike past, I noticed that the ditches were just boiling with something moving under the surface. My Mom taught me to get down and check out anything and everything in nature, so I parked my bike and got down to see what was in the ditches. It was tens of thousands of tadpoles! This photo is of a gang (pack? gaggle?) of tadpoles as they hunted along the grass below the rainwater's surface. Isn't that wonderful? Fungi also are popping up everywhere. I really love to examine them when I find them in the yard.

What about the garden? Well, as you see, the cabbages already are starting the first curled leaves inside the head, the freshly planted spinach leaves are peeking out, and the new kale has sprouted. I harvested over 7 pounds of green beans last week, and as I pulled up those plants I slipped them beneath the broccoli and cabbages, to serve as mulch. Those new spinach and kale sprouts are growing now where the beans were just a week before. Three types of lettuces have emerged as well. The fall garden is well underway.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Beds, raised and lowered

It has rained, and rained, and rained today. I thought I would send you some photos to show you why my vegetable beds are raised, my rain garden bed has a trench dug in the middle, and my whole front yard is graded to push the excess water over to the side of the yard. You can see that, if not for the raised beds, my vegetables would be in deep standing water today. They would not survive that environment. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have a trench dug into my rain garden bed, and I have water loving plants, such as iris and umbrella plant, in that trench where they can make the most of standing water. Finally, knowing how wet our yard is, before construction we graded the entire front yard to slope to one side, forcing much of the runoff water in one direction. We then planted native cedars along that side, where they thrive. So, even though water can be a real problem here, we have found ways to get beyond it, or to use it to our advantage. Sorry the photos are blurry, but the camera wanted to focus on the raindrops that were close, rather than the plants that were beyond the wall of rain.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

In the ground, and growing like crazy

Right before the rains predicted from tropical storm Danny, I rushed out and purchased some beautiful, locally grown, broccoli, collards, and savoy cabbage plants. I then ripped out the tomatoes, added some good compost and fertilizer to the bed, and got them in the ground. I know that young transplants need lots of moisture, and don't like lots of sun, so the predicted wet, cloudy weather seemed like a perfect way for a lazy gardener to get a jump on fall, with little effort. I was right! Those transplants already have doubled in size (although this photo, a couple of days old, doesn't show the full change). I am so excited to have new plants in the garden. Of course, I see now that, in my haste, I probably planted all of these too close together. But it is so hard not to plant them all, and I am so weak.

Also shown here are the first baby beans on my later summer planting of green bush beans. They are covered in blossoms and young pods, and are big, fat, beautiful plants. They need, however, to get a move on it. I need to harvest them in the next two weeks, as they are in the lettuce bed, and it soon will be time to get the lettuce in the ground.

Finally: here are the last few cherry tomatoes pulled off the vines as the vines were being pulled from the gound. These are sauteed with a few shitakes from the logs and with the fresh basil that is still abundant. After this I folded in a few beaten eggs from the ladies, and we had an amazing dinner, from our own backyard.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An in between time

This is, most certainly, an in between time in the garden. It is hot, and buggy, and my energy is waning. There is plenty to do, but nothing that will suffer any more without immediate attention. With the exception of the new green bean flowers you see here, there are no vegetables growing. All the perennial flowers need desperately to be cut back and weeded, but the mosquitoes make that just too unpleasant. Planting of broccoli and kale and other young greens in the garden is a whole week away . . . plenty of time to get that bed prepared.

The fig remains prolific, and beautiful, but I am tired of cutting and drying them, and we can eat only so many a day. My apple bags are working to keep away the birds, and you can see the nice, undamaged apple that I ate today (still a little green, but I could not resist). The orangequats and tangerines are ripening slowly; they look like dark green jewels on the trees. Even the shitake logs have put out a few, tiny, misshapen mushrooms.

So maybe I am the only lazy thing in the garden, and need to find a way to focus on what is growing and maturing in order to regain the energy needed to clean up what is spent. But not right now; I just can't stand the sound of that mosquito in my ear.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Baking bees; drying figs

Right before this week's rain, it was HOT. Here you see all the bees from Loretta's hive hanging out on the front of the hive, as it was just too hot inside for them. In extra hot weather, the bees will bring in water, place it strategically in the hive, and then place bees to fan at the doors and throughout the hive to create bee air conditioning. If you look closely at the door on these days, you can see the bees fanning.

The fig tree is really producing this week. Unexpectedly, most of this main crop is also huge: figs bigger than many plums! I had to cut them into four pieces each to dry them. Aren't they beautiful?

We did get three more gallons of honey last week, and there are two honey supers left on the hives. I need to get them off soon, so the bees can settle down and get their winter stores all set. Look at this beautiful girl ready to land on the flowers from my mint!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Worn out plants and fresh new starts

There will be a heat index of 101 degrees F today, and all that is coming out of the garden are figs, a few tomatoes, and one last squash. Any vegetable plants remaining from the first summer planting, such as these sungold tomatoes, are looking sad, even though they may still be producing a fruit here and there. By comparison, look at the bed of string beans and zucchini squash planted a few weeks back. Remember when this bed was filled with kale left over from the spring? I ripped them out and put in some leftover seed, and this is the result. They are beautiful; a great example of why it sometimes is just time to pull up the old, tired vegetable plants and begin a new cycle. Now, if I had planned better, there would also be a bed ready to harvest right now, in between the early, early summer plants and this late summer planting. Those tomatoes are next to go, as I need to amend the soil in that bed a bit, and it soon will be time to plant the fall garden.

Look at the strawberry bed I planted late last winter! The plants have expanded to more than fill every inch of space, and you can see the new, reddish runners trying to sneak baby plants out into the lawn. I did not expect this much growth, so will need to really open up the bed in a few months by removing about half the plants, if not more. I will shoot for removing the mother plants, and leaving they new young plants for next year's production. The ones I remove probably will go into a front yard border, or to friends in need of berry plants. There should be a great harvest next spring from these healthy, perennial plants.

I took one photo today through the egg door of the chicken coop. It was so funny to see Pauline (black), Hilda (dark red), and Lousie (light red) come hopping up to see what I was doing. I am getting anywhere from 1 to 3 eggs a day now from the 4 hens. Not amazing production, but more than we can eat so I am fine with it. I don't think that Hilda has been laying for awhile now. She had lost some feathers and then went so long without replacing them. Then she laid one egg without a shell (it happens sometimes). Since then, nothing. She seems strong and healthy now, and all her feathers are returning, so we will see. They love this time of year, with all the watermelon rinds they can eat. We are lucky that their coop is in a shady area, and in a place that tends to get a breeze.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Got pollen?

My yard is teeming with hummingbirds and pollinators this week, so I went outside to look more closely at why they are coming. I counted over a dozen perennial shrubs and flowers in bloom, each one covered in insects seeking either pollen (a protein source) or nectar (a carbohydrate source). Here are a few of the friends I found. Sorry I couldn't catch a hummingbird picture! Check out the purple pollen all over the head and thorax of that honey bee.

Most of these perennials are less than 3 years old, and all are less than 5 years old. It is amazing what a difference it can make to add some practically zero care (at least in my yard) shrubs and flowers to the landscape. I grow only perennials; I know I don't have the time or patience needed to buy and plant annuals each year (although they are beautiful in the gardens of others). I have had perennial flowers of some sort in bloom every day since the paperwhites started in January. That should give me a good start on beneficial insects, who thrive in environments where there are flowers blooming over long periods of time.

Speaking of patience: I think mine may have paid off. I have been relying on a combination of sloth and patience to keep me out of Dolly's hive, which was looking a little weak. Yesterday Dolly's hive had a good sized orientation flight at the front of the hive. That means the new, post swarm queen was able to mate, come home, and lay eggs, and that those new bees now have worked their way up from housekeeping and nurse bees to foragers. Maybe I will have 3 hive make it to fall. I certainly hope so.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fruit and an experimental solution

It looks like 2009 will be the year of the fruit in our yard.

For the first time this year, our young apple trees started the summer covered in apples. Last weekend I noticed that 3 apples had been ruined by the birds. I had decided not to let that happen again this year, so I purchased a package of plain brown bags, with the plan to cover the apples until they ripen. When we went out today to staple the bags over the apples, I found to my dismay that over 50 apples had been ruined by the birds in this past week. What a shame. There were apples left undamaged, so, yes, we bagged them! What a good husband I have, he helped despite being obviously self conscious when neighbors drove by! It took only 15 minutes. Our trees now look quite odd, but I am hopeful we may now get some apples to ripen. I got the idea when watching a show about fruit in Japan that was hand pollinated due to lack of bees, and then bagged to ensure quality of the valuable fruit.

Another tree covered with fruit for the first time is the tangerine. You may recall that last year the tree had its first fruit, 7 beautiful tangerines. This year it has dozens of young fruit, and I am excited about the possibility of a large harvest in early winter. Here you see the tree with the beautiful jewels on the ends of the branches.

Lastly, the fig has finished its early flush of huge fruit, and now is covered with smaller figs. It will be interesting to see if the flavor of this larger crop of smaller fruit is more intense than the extremely mild flavor of the few large fruit from earlier in the season.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I cave on the kale; figs, an inside out flower

OK, "uncle." The Russian and Italian kales would not quit this year; Come on, it's July already! So, although they were still lovely, looking like kale palm trees in the garden, I yanked them all out this weekend. Here you see the plants, the left over stalks after the leaves were removed, and the ladies in the chicken coop thrilled with any less than perfect leaves. The huge harvest would not fit in my sink, so I rinsed the leaves in a washbucket on the back porch, chopped them, and cooked them with a bit of onion and some sausage I had on hand for seasoning. They cooked down to a lovely dinner and 5 nice, meal sized bags frozen for future use.

That left me with a clean and open garden bed. I took the opportunity to add a bit more compost and some lime, as my most recent soil test had indicated lime was needed. I also added some fertilizer, and then mixed and watered it all well. Hopfully some of this lovely rain is washing through right now! I will plant some fairly short season snap beans for right now, and hope to get a harvest and then immediately pull those plants, leaving a spot for the fall garden. If they do not ripen before I plan to plant the fall crops, I will just pull them and use them as a high Nitrogen source mulch.

Look at these beautiful figs from my fig tree! The coin is a nickle, to give you a size comparison. The color inside is beautiful, though the flavor of this variety is very, very mild. This variety does a particularly good job of showing all the flower/fruit parts of the fig.