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.