Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Still Gardening

I just read The Moneyless Man. It's about a young guy in the UK who decides to go an entire year without using money. I'm not into New Year's resolutions because I can't understand why you can't start something on any other given day of the year, but that has me back to that question of whether I can garden every single day of the year. Don't worry. I'm not going to do it. I can't commit, but I can't see a reason that I couldn't do it either.
Evidence: I planted lettuce seed a few weeks ago and it came up without any protection- IN THE END OF DECEMBER!!! Amazing or scary? Here's proof:
I think this includes Matina and Winter Density

This got me thinking about planting other seeds so I dug a couple of buckets of soil from the chicken coop, spread them in a small area of the garden and planted 3 kinds of carrots- Amarillo (yellow), Cosmic Purple and Nantes. I'll let you know when they germinate.

The kiddo and I discussed what she wants to grow in her garden this year and she said- Fushia Zinnias, Cucumbers and Green Onions. She eats onions straight out of the garden year-round. She decided she wants her own now. So, we went to her garden from this past summer and collected the seed heads from the Zinnias since she wants them to be EXACTLY like last year. We'll see if they come true. 

I had purchased a bag of mixed tulips with the intention of planting them at my moms and never got around to it so I tossed them into a pot on the back porch today. I don't have great expectations, but I did dump a shovel of chicken coop soil in with them so maybe they will surprise me. I've had some success planting bulbs in December before, but these were starting to dry and sprout. 

I love this little vignette of a cool heuchera and mixed lettuces I planted in fall. The colors are cool together. I need to get my hands on more of these heuchera. 

I finally decided I needed to bring the Black Mission Fig inside, since it is really not hardy in this zone and I've exposed it to plenty already. It looks as though the buds are still alive. For now it is just sitting in the corner.

A random mix of "wildflower" seed that I received as a gift has me pondering this healthy looking plant. I'm not sure what it is. I'm assuming it will bloom next year. Anyone? Maybe it's a coreopsis?

And lastly, when we think there certainly can't be anything in bloom in December we saw a forsythia starting to flower on a walk yesterday and I noticed the catkins on the Hazelnut are growing. The world is not dead.

You CAN garden in December. The world is not dead. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gardening in December

Last night was our coldest night yet with temps somewhere around 17. I covered the rosemary- determined to keep in going. It made it. Otherwise, everything else is now on its own from here on out. So I say. I got very depressed when I decided to go out and dig some leeks for soup for lunch and guess what- the ground was frozen. Man, what am I going to do all winter if this shit keeps up? I looked at garden blogs, flipped through a seed catalog, took some pics. It got me thinking. What does it really mean to garden in winter and what would that look like? Could I "garden" everyday of the year? Sounds like an interesting challenge. 

Challenge: Can I keep green herbs outside all winter?
I don't know how well you can tell in this picture, but the herbs here- marjoram, mint, parsley and also green onions and violas- leaves have curled overnight and the mint is shiny. Here is a close-up:
Can they recover? 

YES! They can. This photo taken at 31 degrees F. 
What am I doing? Essentially, I potted them up, put them on a shelf against my house (the portion that has white siding) and on a south facing wall. I'm hoping being up against the house, sheltered from winds and against this highly reflective south wall will extend their life and even allow for all-winter-long herbs. I also have some oregano, lettuce and spinach in pots along this wall. 

Challenge: Can I grow veggies in pots over winter?
Here is my attempt at Potato Onions and Leafing Cabbage. So far so good, albeit slow.

Challenge: What other things count as winter gardening? 
Does- I haven't gotten around to digging up all the cannas yet count? Sure! And the roots still look good. I'm guessing the ground would not only have to freeze solid, but stay so for a given amount of time for them to die. The ones I could dig were either in pots or in a heavily leaf-mulched bed, hence not having to deal with frozen earth. 
Tossed into grocery bag for the winter.

Still alive!

I think eating what you grew in summer should also count to some degree as winter gardening, but that's just my opinion. Plan B- when ground is too frozen to dig leeks, eat eggplant from the freezer.

Challenge: What can I grow and eat indoors in the winter?
Answer: Leafing Celery.

I'm still waiting for my parsley, cilantro and nasturtiums to germinate in my window food farm tower. Impatiently, I might add. And lastly, having a living and plant-able Winter Solstice Tree counts as gardening in my book. Last year I picked out a lime green arborvitae (which has a lot of dead foliage now). I decided to get something a little more tough this year- a Wichita Blue Juniper. I like it. I wouldn't normally buck up $50 for a plant, but seeing what I would pay for a chopped-down one that would just be tossed away after the holidays and whereas this one not only gets planted, hopefully lasts for years, adds beauty to my landscaping and shelter for wildlife it seems a cheap alternative. Besides, having to keep it outside means I don't have to deal with boxes of ornaments, the dogs eating it and the cats trying to climb it. The string of lights is a compromise. 

Until next time and more winter garden challenges!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November Harvest & Projects

Some random garden activities of the month include stratifying seeds. My coworker gave me some Hawthorn fruit (look like tiny crabapples) she collected while hunting in a southern county. She said this tree was particularly attractive and very thorny and asked if I would start some seedlings for her. So, I whittled away the fruit and found 2 seeds within each. I dropped them in some water and they all sunk- good sign!  Next, I planted them in a used salad bar container (clear plastic with holes) and put it outside to overwinter. It is important that they are exposed to both cold and moisture in order to germinate. Here is what the soaking seed looked like:

Some recent harvests include: gnarly white carrots, kale and perpetual spinach (which is a variety of chard). I plan on eating Kale throughout the winter. Here are some pics:

I used kale in almost everything I made for Thanksgiving: 2 kinds of veggie meatballs and a Curried Jamaican dumpling. Other things harvestable now include: rosemary, spearmint, marjoram, chives, parsley, green onions, leeks, corn salad.  Things to come next include: spinach, lettuce, miner's lettuce, leafing cabbage.

What to do with that pumpkin on the porch? Slice it, remove the seeds (and roast w/ olive oil and salt), roast the slices and enjoy. I just made some pureed pumpkin soup and added a couple of potatoes to make it creamy, roasted onion and some leftover blue cheese. Roasting the veggies first adds some yummy smokiness to the soup. 
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I was lucky enough to be a judge for the second year at the 2nd Annual Homemade Wine Tasting contest sponsored by the Millstadt Historical Society.  Lots of good entries, including: Blackberry, Black and Blueberry, White Grape, Peach, Elderberry got me interested in making my own so I decided to start some batches. 
Some of the homemade wines to be sampled.

Two small batches and a Chuy cat.

I read that Wild Plum Wine can take 3 years to reach its potential so I decided to start small in the event it totally stinks. I collected, pitted and froze wild plums late summer as they fell. On the left are the plums with sugar and water and no added yeast. On the right in the wine bottle I decided to juice some fruits around the kitchen- pomegranate, oranges and apples, add a little sugar and some baking yeast- why not? Because my house is so cold after a few days of little obvious activity I decided to put them on a heating pad to warm up the little buggers. Not surprisingly Chuy found the pad a suitable tush-warmer. 

Another winter project begun again is the experimental window garden in a tower of juice bottles. This was my take on the hydroponic window farm design, except with soil (which could mean huge mess). In the bottom bottle I have 3 spinach plants I had started from seed outside this fall. The middle bottle has parsley seeds and the top one I put nasturtiums. Maybe the nasturtiums will bloom and add some much needed winter color, but if not, the leaves are still edible.
Please don't fall. Please don't fall. 

And a close up of the spinach in the bottom tier:

And lastly, I finally ate a Bhut Jolokia. I can say I did it and I will never eat it again (whole anyway). I ended up with a nice crop. Pulease! Anything more than 3 is more than you would need anyway, right? I took them along with me to Thanksgiving dinner because I knew I could get my brother to eat one first and he did. He seemed so calm about it I ate one too (albeit a small one). The surprising thing about these peppers (at least eaten whole) is that they don't fry your mouth, but they are like a flesh-eating tumor in your throat and ulcerate your gut. I woke at 11pm that night racing for the bathroom. Notice the time on the clock gave them 2 hrs to kick through my insides. They also don't burn coming out- another pleasant surprise! Later in the week my bro ate more and was doubled over in pain. He says if you cook with them whole and remove them whole they add flavor and heat without the pain. I'm thinking of brewing some Chili Vodka for the Holidays....
Bro and Bhut