Late fall in the garden

IMG_8111This update is a little late but if you are wondering how the garden is coming along, here it is!  When we finally had our hard frost a few weeks ago, I went out and spent the day cleaning and harvesting what I could.

IMG_8112In my effort to add visual interest, I have added a bottle tree and the white metal baskets are a project in the works.

IMG_8118Our hens have really helped us improve the soil and control insects.  These are two of our young hens; a Black Australorp and an Americauna, who is also our only green egg layer.

IMG_8121She really is a sweet bird but she is also a bit shy and the other hens tend to bully her a bit.

IMG_8122These are a couple of the old girls.  We brought our Golden Laced Wyandottes with us when we moved here from Virginia.  They aren’t laying much anymore now that they are over 2 years old but they still help out by providing us with manure and by eating insects.

IMG_8120The iridescent feathers on the Australorps are beautiful when the sun hits them.  The hens wander the outside of the garden in their tunnels and they are safe from hawks and our plants are safe from the hens!

IMG_8132This pretty lady, an argiope aurantia or yellow garden spider, was hanging out in the carport until we moved her to the garden.  She quickly settled in and stayed out there until the hard frost.

IMG_8137Because I was curious, I looked up information about her and discovered that this little brown ball is actually an egg sac.  Each one can contain about a thousand live babies who will over winter in the sac.  As I cleaned up the bed of flowers where she was living, I discovered three of these egg sacs!  In the hope of having another spider or two next year, I carefully moved the sacs and placed them in the beds with our fig trees.

IMG_8127Early in the spring, I planted a number of perennial flowers and herbs around the garden.  At that time, I also planted an artichoke.  It has gotten large and if it survives the winter, I am hoping for chokes!

IMG_8125Cabbage heads are looking good.

IMG_8126We harvested most of the broccoli for Thanksgiving dinner and froze what we did not cook.  Because we only cut the top heads off, we left the plants in the ground so that they would produce side shoots of smaller heads.  If all goes according to the plan, we will be picking broccoli through the winter.

IMG_8124When we were in Virginia, I planted Tokyo market turnips for the first time.  They are smaller than the typical turnips found in grocery stores.  At last check, they were nearing maturity and I am looking forward to roasting a few!

IMG_8141Cardoon looks a lot like an artichoke.  The difference, chokes or the flower, are the only edible part of an artichoke while both the flower and the stalk are edible on a cardoon.  Actually, the stalk is more commonly consumed and it requires a long simmer to soften the extremely tough fibers.

IMG_8143The stalks look like celery on steroids and they are just as tough as you would imagine.  And then there are the spines; they are every bit as sharp as they look!

IMG_8147Handle the stalks with care and be sure to cut them off before you try to cut and cook the stalks.

IMG_8117All around the garden are little pops of color in the form of violas, one of my favorite plants.

IMG_8131Love this color combination.

IMG_8129Part of the clean up meant gathering tomatoes, both ripe and green.  If you are considering planting tomatoes, give these little yellow gems a try.  They are called Barry’s Crazy Cherry and they can be found in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog.

IMG_8149Late in spring, we put a watermelon plant into the garden.  Hoping for a few melons to share with the hens, we were disappointed by how slowly the plants grew.  This was the largest of three melons.  The first one that we cut into was white inside, it became some really nice pickles.  The other two are still waiting to be cut and we are hoping for better luck!

 

latest news from the garden

IMG_7534We have been hard at work building our new garden.  Actually, we have been engaged in a war with bermuda grass and right now, we are barely hanging on to the lead in this battle!  Despite using lots of cardboard and wood chips, this stuff finds a way to break out and sprout up everywhere.  Luckily, there is no shortage of cardboard or wood chips as well as my stubborn determination!

Because of the density of the grass layer, we have turned to a favorite method of building beds and have begun layering materials on top of it rather than break our backs and knees with digging and sifting.  The blue tubs each have a sweet potato plant and we are hoping that we will have good luck with this method.  In the empty beds, I have layered horse manure, leaves and grass clippings and I will cover the area with cardboard and use purchased organic soil to grow in.  Eventually, the layers will compost and the cardboard will disintegrate leaving us with a nutrient rich layer of soil to garden in.  Patience is key here because this will take at least a year to accomplish and if all goes well, it will also smother out the bermuda grass in the beds.  Otherwise, I will have to dig it out because using something like glyphosate is not an option-read this to see just how bad the stuff is!

IMG_7536In late winter, I started a few beds by broadcasting a bunch of seeds over them.  In this bed, the Chinese Cabbages are doing really well and we should be harvesting them soon!

IMG_7539These Tokyo Market turnips are a favorite of ours and we are harvesting them about once a week.  They are wonderful when roasted and the greens are tender enough that you just have to saute them, no boiling necessary!

IMG_7541In a nearby bed, I threw in lettuce seeds, obviously too many but, we have had tons of lettuce to eat and to share.

IMG_7545We purchased about a dozen broccoli plants and we have been eating it roasted and in salads.  Did you know that you can harvest those large leaves and eat them too?  We have done this on many occasions making the individual plants twice as productive.  Use the heads and some of the stems raw in salads and slaws or roast the florets with a little oil and your favorite spice blend.  The leaves should be blanched first to soften them, then saute them with a little garlic, you won’t regret it.

IMG_7554Who doesn’t love surprises?  Especially if it is a raspberry bush-we have found two so far!

IMG_7556Of course, we learned of the muscadines from a neighbor and earlier this spring, we gave them a hard pruning to alleviate some of the weight and shading on the vines.  New vines have erupted and we are starting to see the promise of fruits.

IMG_7557Beyond the garden is an area where I am hoping to develop a meadow for bees and butterflies.  Right now, it is a tangle of weeds and in the middle, is what looks like a dandelion on steroids.  Goatsbeard, trogopogon dubius, is a type of salsify and is considered a weed.

IMG_7560It was disappointing to learn that it is an introduced species and not considered a beneficial addition to the landscape. But that seed head!

IMG_7550Then there is this guy, Hunky Dory the Americauna rooster we got in the latest brood.  He is a handsome fellow but a noisy one as well.  We gave him that name because he will crow to let us know that something is not up to his standards.  Not enough pellets; crow.  No water; crow.  Roosting bar fell down; crow.  Clock strikes 3am; crow…

IMG_7553Not only is it against the law, we do not want fertilized eggs or more chickens so the handsome fellow will be rehomed as soon as we can find a suitable situation.

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chaos

Chaos noun, behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions, also known as the effects of spring weather on the garden.

The weather this spring has been hard to predict.  Cool at night to highs of 90+ during the day, multiple days reaching 80+ and then in the blink of an eye, drops to the 40’s at night and days that barely cross 50.  Up and down and up and down…stretches of a week or more with no rain for a somewhat dry April, to rain nearly every day for the first full week of May.   Seedlings that emerged and then dampened off or the seeds just rotted altogether.  Plants that did grow at all for weeks and instead, bolted.  Then, suddenly, rain and more rain.  The garden was transformed nearly over night and I am now enjoying fresh picked produce by the basket!

 

IMG_5793This part of the garden does not get much direct sunlight and once the crape myrtle, which is not in the photo, leafs out completely, it gets little filtered light as well.  Last spring I spent a week amending the soil and adding shade tolerant perennials to the bed.  This year, nearly all of them came back except for a bleeding heart plant and they have truly filled the space.IMG_5795The iris actually gets enough light because it blooms before the crape myrtle creates shade.  Also in bloom are azaleas, dianthus and phlox.

IMG_5800Remind me to tell you the story of the gnome sometime… He is watching over the sunny part of the garden.IMG_5806Love the little blossoms on the strawberry begonia.

IMG_5817While I have put a lot of work into the perennial beds near the front door of the house, none of that compares to the amount of work the vegetable garden has taken.  We began in late fall of 2014 by composting the leaves that fell from our trees with grass clippings from the lawn and bags of coffee grounds from Starbucks.  In spring of 2015, I topped each of the beds with that compost and placed 45 bales of straw on the beds in the garden.  Throughout the year, I attempted to grow vegetables in the bales with out a ton of success. In early winter, when the bales began to tip like drunkards, I broke them down and scattered the straw on top of the compost along with more coffee, ground egg shells, compost (that includes litter from our hens) and a topping of purchased garden soil.

In February, we hooped two beds and I seeded them with cold hardy greens and lettuces.  Some seeds germinated nicely, others not at all.  We filled a third bed with purchased starts for cold weather veggies.  Things moved very slowly.  The beds were a little hot for the plants and I was beginning to get discouraged.  Finally, in April we began to see growth and were able to begin picking greens for cooking and salads as well as radishes and turnips.  My collection of lettuces are doing very well and I am picking them regularly.

IMG_5818Peas were slow to get going but have finally come on board.  Gotta love the tendrils and the way they tie themselves into knots.

IMG_5819Everybody loves surprise potatoes!  Must have missed one when I harvested them last fall.  not sure what it is but I am thinking it is most likely a yukon gold but the alternative is red norland; either way works for me!

IMG_5820A lot of firsts this year.  Ailsa Craig onions along with some radishes from an 8 year old package of seeds I found lurking in the box!  We have lots of mushrooms coming up in the beds.  Did you know that is a good thing?  There is a relationship between plants and mushrooms and when some combinations are grown together, you can actually improve your yields-this pairing was random and not of my doing but my fingers are crossed that it helps.  Want to know more about it, pick up a copy of Mycelium Running and read about it!

IMG_5822Chinese cabbage is doing so well-and I grew this from seeds!

IMG_5823The way chard glows when backlit never gets old.

IMG_5828These rutabegas are taking off in the garden.  If you grow them, be sure to eat the greens too!  Cook them as you would collards and the plant will be doing double duty.

IMG_5829Another of the firsts in our garden, salsify.  Have no idea if we will enjoy it but I saw some plants in Colonial Williamsburg in the garden the the local master gardeners maintain and decided it was pretty and it needed to live in my garden too!

IMG_5831Speaking of pretty, these radicchio starts have been stealing the show for a while now.  We pull a few leaves off from the bottom and are letting the heads fill out.

IMG_5832More starts, celery is taking its time.

Welcome to my garden, my little slice of earth.  Feel free to wander through and admire the plants, dinner will be ready just as soon as I wash the lettuce.