Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lovely Spring

You really can't beat a beautiful spring day. There's nothing like a couple of rainy days to make you appreciate it even more. Here are some pictures from yesterday, after the rain stopped.

As I was in the kitchen yesterday, something caught my eye out the window. Bleeding hearts! I had forgotten all about them. Three years ago, I planted some of these in my side yard. They bloomed and then immediately got eaten by deer. I gave up on them after that. I figured they wouldn't return because they had been defoliated so early in their young lives. Well, they're back. I plan to transplant them to my little side garden near the house soon, for better protection.

Love the Bleeding hearts, their blossoms look just like little dangling hearts. What's not to like? They also come in pink, red and with variations in blossom form.

Clarence likes them too. He wanted me to get his picture in front of the bleeding hearts. I mean, why else would he sit right in front of them while I'm taking a picture, right?

Daffodils! I love daffodils! They are so pretty, so happy, they come up early in spring, and bonus, one of the few things the deer won't eat! Hooray for daffodils! The Latin or botanical name for daffodils is Narcissus. Whichever you choose to call them, they are synonyms, either is correct, although the common name is Daffodil.

The funny thing about these two daffodils is that they were somewhat forgotten. I purchased them in the fall and put them on a shelf in my garage. I just never got around to planting them. During our mild winter, on a balmy day in January, I decided to plant them in the unfrozen ground. Well, better late than never, they flowered for me beautifully come spring. Daffodils store energy for flowering the previous growing season. They do need a chill time to signal to flower when it warms in the spring. Since they were stored in my cold, unheated garage, they got the chill they needed anyway. I'm not recommending planting your bulbs this way, but if you forget this fall, there's still a chance for them if you get them in the ground during the winter.

I sure do love a nice juicy peach. That's what I have on my mind when I look at my peach tree. It's so hard to get a good peach at the grocery store. Sometimes I buy a few and one will be good and the rest, not so good. I planted this Elberta peach a couple years ago. It's sure does want to produce for me. It's got blossoms all over it. However, the last two years, when it came time for the peaches to ripen, I was out of town! Not fair. It's so sad to find your peaches on the ground upon returning home. I have high hopes this year.

My Elberta Peach is looking better than ever.

April Asparagus

Purple Passion Asparagus

Do not adjust your monitor. That's purple asparagus your looking at. Isn't it pretty? When I started my asparagus patch in the spring of 2006, I was delighted to find out that there was a purple asparagus! I had never seen purple asparagus before and didn't really know what to expect. Like most purple vegetables, it does turn green when cooked. Of course there's nothing that says you can't eat your asparagus raw, especially when it's freshly harvested from your own garden. It's so tender, if you do opt to cook it, it only needs a minute of cooking... seriously.

The first spears emerge in my garden the third week of April. We'll be harvesting into May. This is the first vegetable I get to eat from my garden in the spring. As I harvest the first few spears, we will only get a few here and there. So I cut them up and add them to a salad. That way we each get a taste of asparagus.

Most people have not seen what asparagus looks like as it grows in the garden. So I thought I'd share some pictures. The asparagus spears we eat are tender new shoots that emerge from the crowns below the surface.

Asparagus has a permanent home in my raised bed garden.

Asparagus is a hardy perennial. My favorite kind of veggie. I planted it once and it grows back each year. A well cared for asparagus patch can live for 25 to 30 years, or so I'm told. I'll have to wait a while to find out for myself. Most people plant one year old crowns purchased from a nursery, as I did (here's a good source for crowns, Nourse Farms). You can also start your own asparagus seeds, but you'll have to wait a couple years longer to harvest any spears. Conventional wisdom says you do not harvest any the first year after planting. All you get to do is look at them. This allows the plants to get established.

I'll admit, it was pretty hard not harvesting any spears the first year. I let all of the spears, fern out and grow to maturity the first year. Henry found it to be a nice place to take a shady nap. He would curl up under the ferns as I would work in the garden. He's looking pretty sleepy here. It's just about time to lay down for a nap.

Asparagus is not just for eating. Henry likes it as a cool summer spot.

The second spring, you may harvest 2 or 3 spears per plant (third spring if you're starting from seed). I think I harvested even less than that, cautious of over harvesting. I wanted my plants to get well established. The third spring, is the best because you can harvest any spears that have a diameter greater than 3/8 of an inch and let all the skinnier ones fern out. The purple passion asparagus does turn green as it ferns out. Only the newly emerged spears are purple. I also have green asparagus in my patch, Jersey Giant. Ironically, my Jersey Giant asparagus is smaller than the purple passion. This one pictured below was too small to harvest. You can see the tip of the spear is beginning to loosen. Soon it will grow taller and fern out.

Jersey (not so) Giant asparagus.

Asparagus likes a neutral pH soil. That would be a pH of 7. If your soil is naturally on the acidic side, you'll need to add lime to the soil to make the asparagus grow happily. A pH lower than 6 and you'll have hard time growing it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day! Does one say "Happy" on Earth Day? Well, I like it, so Happy Earth Day to you. I might even start saying Happy Tuesday to you too. Why not. Undoubtedly, everywhere you go today, people (?), well probably not people, but media, tv, newspapers, etc. will be telling you how and why you should be more green. I know, it's true what Kermit said, "It's not easy being green."

One of the easiest things you can do to be more earth friendly is to grow your own food, as in fruits and vegetables, and why not, throw in some herbs while you're at it. You really don't have to have big garden in order to grow some veggies of your own. Many things can be container grown. I'll give you a hint, some of the easiest things to grow are lettuce, snap beans, and zucchini. It really is just about as easy as putting a seed in the soil or potting mix. Food you grow in your backyard doesn't have to be trucked in from across the country, or flown in from another country. Not only does that make it more earth friendly (no fuel is spent bringing to you), but an added benefit is that it tastes better. You'll be so proud of something you grew yourself.

Now you might be thinking, "Where do I get seeds? I don't want to mail order and pay shipping and have to wait." Well, next time you're at the supermarket, or hardware store, or even one of those big box "mart" stores, you can pick up a packet or two of seeds real cheap. Think about the potential in a pack of seeds, how much food you can grow from one pack of seeds. Another option is to buy starts at a nursery (small plants). That works too. But there's something about growing from seed that's really cool. Think of the speck of tomato seed. In that tiny seed, is the potential to grow into a big plant, that will produce many fruits. Inside each fruit is a more seeds! Think of the potential!

If you really want to be green while growing your greens, you can reuse a container you already have laying around. Cut the top off a gallon container (only for something small like herbs or lettuce), use and old bucket (5 gallon works for tomatoes), or that planter where you once had flowers and now sits unused. I guarantee, you'll get more compliments, and interest from something edible, than that dead annual from two years ago. Make sure to poke or drill some drainage holes in the bottom. Make sure you use a nice fluffy, light potting mix. Anything marked top soil is not going to work, too heavy. And forget about scraping some soil out of the yard and plopping it into a container.

You're going to need full sun. That means the spot where you put your container will have sun on it most, if not all of the day. If all you have is partial sun, give it a shot. You may get something out of it, it's better than nothing.

The back of the seed pack (and sometimes the front) will tell you how deep to plant the seed, how many days to maturity (that's when you can pick the fruit/veg!), and maybe some tips on care.

Vegetables not your bag? Well, you can grow a small fruit tree right in a container. Put it on your patio (full sun of course!) or deck, or where ever you want. Check out these cool apple trees from Miller Nurseries.

Well, I better get going. I've got some earth day celebrating of my own to do. With that, I'll leave you with these words from Kermit:

"But green's the color of Spring.
And green can be cool and friendly-like.
And green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

They're Baaack

Imperial Star Artichoke, 2007 growing season.

I must admit, I am a bit fascinated by artichokes. It's not quite to the point of obsession, like I am with tomatoes, but I find them more interesting than many of the other vegetables I grow. I think that stems from the fact that they are not really widely grown in this part of the country. So it's a bit of a challenge.

Last spring/summer I grew my first artichokes, Imperial Star Artichokes. They produced flowers (that's the part we eat) their first year, which is a plus, since artichokes are a perennial that produce (most of the time) in it's second year. However, it was questionable if they would survive the winter here. Actually, they are only supposed to be hardy down to USDA zone 8 (even more detailed maps here) and we are in zone 6 here. What does all this zone business mean? Well, it's just a way for gardeners to gauge how well a given plant will survive the extreme cold of winter in a given geographical region. In theory, you'd want perennial plants (plants the come back year after year) that are rated to survive your zone or colder if you live in a cold area. The lower your zone number the colder it gets in the winter. It doesn't take into account how hot it gets in the summer, how long a growing season you have, or all the many other variables that go into growing plants. Many people get confused by the zone thing and think that if one lives in a higher zoned area, you must have a longer growing season, and vice versa. This is not so. Your growing season is determined by the number of frost free days you have and also how hot it gets in the hottest part of your summer. For example Dallas, TX is zone 8, as is Seattle, WA. Obviously the two have different weather and completely different growing seasons. If you lived in Texas, you might have a spring garden and a fall garden, because the heat of summer would kill your crops. While in Washington, it might be mild all through the spring and summer. To add to the confusion there are micro-climates within zones that can throw you for a loop. If you lived on top of a mountain, it might be much colder than down in the valley. So it would seem the zone system is flawed. But, if you use it simply as a way to determine how cold a temperature a give perennial plant can take, it should work for you.

Last summer I let some of the buds go to flower.

So back to artichokes. Once the artichoke foliage died back from the fall frost, I took measures to protect it from our cold winter. I cut back the plant and piled about a foot of shredded fall leaves on top of the plants and then covered the entire raised bed with a plastic tarp to keep too much moisture from rotting the plants. I weighted down the plastic tarp around the edges with large rocks and bricks. It stayed that way all through the winter. Rain came down, snow piled up, ice formed, the whole works. Then in spring it started to warm up. My other perennial plants started popping up. I figured it was time to uncover the artichokes. So the first week of April, I pulled back the tarp and pushed away the leaves. The leaves smelled earthy, a nice scent. The bottom few inches of shredded leaves had already turned into compost, a nice black crumbly layer. I removed most of the pile of leaves and left a few inches to feed the plants, and hopefully act as a mulch and prevent weeds from sprouting. There was just the tiniest bit of growth on three of the plants. Slowly, they are waking up from a long winter sleep. I have a good feeling we'll have quite the crop of artichokes this year. They are said to produce in abundance the second year.

By April 20 new growth appears on the old stump and increases each day.

It looks as though only three of the six plants have growth so far. I'm not sure if the other three are just slower to wake up, or they may be dead. I'll give them until May to do something. During the winter, I sometimes get carried away while looking at seed catalogs and websites. I bought some new artichoke seeds of Violetto Artichoke. The description says, "Beautiful purple heads of artichokes look like flowers (because they are) on these plants. Fruit is more elongated than the green globe type. There is some variation in the seed and the Italian supplier recommends removing any weedy looking seedlings before setting out. Start indoors for a mid-summer crop even in Maine." To me that sounds like the seed is not pure and may have come from cross pollinated stock. I guess I'll take my chances. These seedlings look quite happy and robust. Although I did start them kind of late. My first batch did not germinate. I don't know why, sometimes that just happens to even the most experienced of seed starters. I tried again and most of the seeds germinated. Now that I know my old plants survived, I will have to find a spot for these or give them away. I'm thinking about putting a couple in an Earth Box (I have 3) and then in the winter, storing it in the garage for protection.

Violetto artichoke seedlings. No weedy looking seedlings here! What are they talking about?

Now some call them weeds and some call them volunteers, but if you let a plant go to seed, you may have some seedlings that pop up unexpectedly. Such is the case in the artichoke bed. I found this volunteer yesterday. Funny thing is, it popped up next to one of the plants that hasn't started growing yet (possibly dead). Isn't nature a wonderful thing?

Look familiar? A volunteer artichoke a few weeks behind the ones started inside.

Friday, April 18, 2008

No Vacancy

We had a few fleeting visits from a bluebird couple in March. They landed on the nesting box and went inside. They showed no signs of shyness. I thought maybe they might be the bluebirds we had here last year since they were already paired up and seemed very comfortable with the nesting box. After they left, I looked inside to make sure no other birds had started nesting in there and they hadn't. Earlier that same day, a small woodpecker had been in the nesting box checking it out as well. Over the winter, we had several birds show interest in the box while the bluebirds were away. The downy woodpeckers and black capped chickadees visited the nesting box on a regular basis.

Well, March 25 is the last time I have seen the bluebirds. We've put out meal worms occasionally, to try to attract them. The titmice and chickadees sure do appreciate it. They ate up the worms without hesitation.

The bluebirds are taking their time coming back. I imagine they are enjoying their spring foot loose and baby free. It is after all, a lot of work raising those babies all summer. I picture them flying all around the area surveying their choices of nesting sites. I'm sure they are having a good time. Maybe they are sleeping in late or taking naps during the day. As it turns out, that old saying, you snooze, you lose, is true. Our year round friends, the chickadees have decided that this will make a nice spot to nest.

This Black Capped Chickadee says, "No Vacancy!"

They're much smaller than the bluebirds, but they like this box just the same. Yesterday, they started building their nest. You can see in the pictures below, she is bringing dried grass and moss into the nesting box. I wonder how much longer till we have eggs.

The chickadees have never been shy around me. They seem friendly in fact. They sure are cute little birds. I watched them build their nest for a while. They chirped happily as they made trips back and forth. They gathered moss from the rock wall between the house and the yard, as well as grass. I was curious about their nest and took a quick peek inside the box yesterday evening. The nest looked only about halfway done and was made of soft moss and grass. It looked like a soft spot for a baby bird to hatch and spend it's first days of life. As I write this, I just glanced out my office window and caught site of a chickadee with a beak full of grass on her way back to the nesting box. We may not have bluebirds this year, but I like the chickadees so much, I find it hard to be disappointed.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tomato Seedling: The Movie

I made a short little movie that shows the first 11 days of this tomato seedling's life. Take a look, it's only a minute long.

Press the play button arrow on the image below to view the video.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Orchid Show Part 2

Here's some more favorites from the orchid show. It's amazing the colors and forms these blooms take. It's a thing of beauty and wonder.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Orchid Show

I always seem to find out about these things at the last minute. Yesterday was the last day of the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden. If you live in the area and didn't go, well, I suppose there's always next year. Until then, you can see a few of the blooms here. Too many photos to post in a day, I'll post more tomorrow.

As usual, Sundays at the Gardens are a mad house. I think also being the last day of the show, hordes of late comers like myself were there. All the murmurings in the air were "excuse me," "oops, sorry," in between, "ooh, that's a pretty one," and "wow, look at that."

I admittedly know nothing about orchids. It was just a little too crazy to note the names of each flower. So just take them for what they're worth. Some pretty pictures on a gray day.

I think this may be my favorite one

Amazing color!

Love those blotches!

Soft yellow on the outside, and pow, hot stuff in the middle!


This one reminds me of the leis you get upon arrival in Hawaii.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Tomato Starting Day!

Here's a picture for a little bit of motivation. This is the harvest from September 3, 2007

Well, I've put it off long enough. It's time to start some tomato seeds. Last year, I started my seeds on March 28. That seemed to work out perfectly. The plants looked nice and healthy and ready to take off. Starting tomato seeds too early will result in bigger transplants, but that's not always what you want. Conventional wisdom says to remove any flowers that have formed before you transplant seedlings to their permanent location. The thinking is that the plant will put it's energy into spreading roots and not put it's energy into forming fruits at that early stage. Is it true? I dunno. I just go along with that method and so far, it's worked for me. Since I planted out only 6 weeks after starting seeds, those 6 week old seedlings were just on the verge of forming flowers, and did soon after plant out.

I know just what you're thinking now, what types of tomatoes are you going to grow this year? Am I right? I am aren't I. Well, I don't have an endless supply of room for growing tomatoes, so I must limit what I grow, unfortunately for me. I have a dream of having as much room as I want to grow whatever I want someday, but that day, is not today. And I have a feeling that, if I did have hundreds of plants, well, that would be more work than I really want to do. But who knows, I may just surprise us all and run off to become a tomato farmer some day.

Some of my seeds* came from a farmer in Napa, CA, Brad Gates at Wild Boar Farms. He has actually introduced quite a few naturally crossed tomato varieties he's discovered in his fields. I had heard of Brad, his farm, and his tomato breeding a while back. He's the breeder of the Berkeley Tie Dye tomato, which I think is the most wide spread of his tomatoes. This tomato is red, gold, and green striped with green flesh with pink blush. Now if that isn't a wild tomato, then I don't know what is. While hubby and I were in Napa we ate dinner at a restaurant called Celadon and hubby ordered the heirloom tomato salad. Well, turns out Brad is one of the suppliers to the restaurant. So I'm thinking we've already sampled some of his own grown tomatoes. What a small world.

Okay, so here is my tomato list. Seems this year, is the year of the striped tomato.

Berkeley Tie Dye*- green-yellow with orange-red stripes 8-12 oz average
Pink Berkeley Tie Dye*-heavy producer dark pink purple with green stripes that turn silver metallic (that I'd like to see)
Beauty King*-Large yellow beefsteak with deep red stripes. Fruit over 1 lb.
Pruden's Purple-dark pink, delicious flavor similar to brandywine, but earlier. 10-16 oz fruit.
Aunt Gertie's Gold-1-2 lb rich gold fruit. One of the best tasting yellows.
Kellogg's Breakfast-1 lb. orange beefsteak tomatoes (like orange juice), that are thin-skinned, meaty, have few seeds and a fantastic sweet, tangy flavor.

Small Fruited:
Red Zebra-huge amounts of 2 inch red fruit with yellow stripes.
Sungold-very sweet orange cherry tomatoes, fruity taste. Our favorite.
Yellow Submarine- a better tasting yellow pear.
Green Grape-3/4- 1 inch fruit, yellow green when ripe. Full of flavor, sweet and juicy.
Sprite-red grape tomatoes, in a smaller plant.

Banana Legs-yellow paste type 4" long x 1 1/2".
Purple Russian-long plum shaped purple/red 6 oz. Good fresh, in sauce or canned.
Roma-the old stand by for paste. 3 inch red plum tomatoes.
Viva Italia- paste type tomato, red plum shaped, perfect for sauce.

Now I know, I really don't need five different small fruited (cherry/grape/silver dollar sized) type tomatoes. One sungold plant would probably provide more than enough fruit for the entire season. However, I just can't help it. I like seeing all the different colors in a basket together. So what's a girl to do? I just can't bring myself to cut anyone from the list.

When I opened my pack of Beauty King Seeds for the first time on seed starting day, it was completely empty. Oops! I was so bummed that I might not get to grow that one this year. It's striped and productive (so I've read) so I was really looking forward to that one. I emailed Brad and he sent me a new pack of seeds right away. They're coming from California, so I know it will be a while before they showed up. I hadn't planned to grow Kellogg's Breakfast this year, but since I didn't have any Beauty King seeds to start, I started some Kellogg's Breakfast instead. Now I'm thinking, that when those Beauty King seeds show up, I will want to start them as well. I guess I'll just have to make some room somewhere. Most of these varieties are new to me this year. Some I had at least tasted at the tomatofest, so I know that I should like the flavor. I just can't wait until the day I am harvesting once again. This time of year, I have visions of baskets and baskets of tomatoes lined up in the garden as I harvest.

I was a little delayed in posting this. So I already have a progress report. Sungold was the first to sprout only 3 days after sowing the seed! Sprite showed up the next day too. In the past, I've had many tomato seedlings show up in 4 days, but 3 is a new record for me. The funny thing is, last year, I had a hard time getting my Sungold seeds to germinate and these are from the same pack. Just the luck of the draw I guess.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rain Drops Keep Falling

on my head. The past couple of days have been rainy. Today however, we have a bit of warmth along with the rain. We can only hope the winter is behind us. These first harbingers of spring give us a glimpse of what's soon to come. Warm, sun filled days are not far off.

I love to go out and shoot in the rain or right after a rain. Everything is so fresh, the colors saturated.

As I'm writing this, I have the feeling these crocuses will not be there much longer. I can see four hungry deer from my office window. They're munching on what little bits of green they can find growing in the woods. It won't be long before they make their way around to the front of the house and find those crocuses. I'm amazed they've made it this long. They're the first to come and also the first to go.