Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Today's Phenology News- Blooms

Phenology is the study of seasonal changes. This morning I noticed many flowers had broken bud. I took a brief tour of the yard to document what is in bloom.
Prunus americana- Wild Plum (native)

My wild plum trees are wildly productive. They produce small (large grape-size) red plums with sour skin and very sweet yellow flesh. I'm practicing making Wild Plum Wine with these, but I'm sure they would make great jelly too.

Serviceberry (juneberry, shadbush)- Amelanchier canadensis (native)

Serviceberries look and taste somewhat similar to blueberries. I eat them right off the tree. They are suckering small trees/shrubs, but don't overly spread themselves. They produce a small crop and the fruits do not all ripen at the same time, which makes them good as yard snacks. The leaves are pretty in fall. It is a good landscaping plant for it's 3 season appeal- flowers, fruit and leaves.

Clove Currant- Ribes odoratum (native)

This is a wonderfully smelling native plant. Not surprisingly the flowers smell like cloves. It is beautiful in bloom and is an early pollinator plant. 

Redbud- Cercis canadensis (native)
These flowers are edible and taste like peas.

Scarlet Honeysuckle- Lonicera sempervirens

This species is native to the south, yet does more than well here. In mild winters it will flower on occasion. This one has already begun flowering, which is nice because it provides food for the hummingbirds before they have even returned to this area. 

Jonquil Narcissi- Stratosphere

While the large-cupped daffodils have already lost their steam due to the exceptionally warm weather (it has been in the 80's for over a week now). The Jonquil types are now coming into bloom. This is a multi-flower, small cupped variety with tall stems. It encircles my dwarf peach tree.

Grape Hyacinth

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spring Break Activities

While Spring Break isn't over it is closer to the end than the beginning. Temps were as such: Monday 84, Tuesday 84, Wednesday 85 + hail, today 80. I have a tan. It's retarded. I saw my first grasshopper this week. For real. A friend in northern Illinois said he had a tick and saw a mosquito. I have tomato seeds up in the garden. Wow. We could have a phenomenal growing season if the threat of frost wasn't dangling over our heads.

Needless to say I have a lot to report- hence the head tan.

I transplanted Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Perpetual Spinach (a chard) and Dinosaur Kale. I had to water the hell out of them as they were not pleased that I said they would go out in Spring and it feels like Summer, but we finally got some rain last night. Oh and g.d. hail too and there was a little reprieve in the sun today.
These were the seeds I started over winter break when I realized we weren't going to have winter. Little did I know that we weren't going to have spring either. The bulbs have been melting this week, although the hyacinth still smell ridiculously sexy.

If it's gonna be warm at night and without mosquitoes I figure I better get the biergarten cleaned up. We enjoyed an evening of music supplied by the local band of Toads, Peepers and Leopard frogs and a crackling fire in the pit.

I was going to include a photo of this no-work planter full of buffalo grass and a couple varieties of sedums, but some photo whore jumped into the picture.
Kiki, aka "why are you always taking pictures of dumb plants?"

The garlic planted on January 16th is looking fabulous. I think every single clove sprouted. This is from bulbs I collected in Fall. 

I transplanted the White Hollyhocks that I grew from seed and already hardened off outside (crazy early).

For years I've wanted a nursery to start native plant seeds and I finally put one in. It started with me ordering seed this winter, which meant I was going to have to do something about it sooner than later. One variety, Liatris punctata (a blazing star) had already germinated in the fridge. I made a 4 x 4 bed and an 8 x 4 bed, which fit 24 rows of different seeds.
The violas I grew from seed and overwintered outside are in full force. Very cute monkey faces.

I helped with prairie and woodland burning all day on Tuesday. Lots of fun. Here is my favorite pic from the day.

I started my second bed of strawberries so that I would have rotating crops. Last year I put in Sparkle and this year Earliglow. Here is the new bed I build on a pile of overwintered leaves.

I planted the new red potatoes I had purchased at the grocer to use in my botany class. Why not? 
I just spaded the soil, threw down the potatoes and topped with 3-4inches of compost.

I also planted some new varieties of Nigella or Love-in-a-mist, including Persian Red, Moody Blues and N. bucharica (a grassy looking one). In addition Fakir parsley root and Salsify (oyster plant) went in. I've never grown either of these root crops. About 9 perennial cornflowers (variety Butterfly) went into the biergarten. 
The Salsify had interested seeds that reminded me of a weed (Jupiter's Beard).  It has yellow daisy flowers and huge parachute-seed heads (like a dandelion) I'm pretty sure they must be related. Check out these seeds:

I discovered a former unknown wildflower was a wallflower. It smells great, but you have to get your nose all the way up to it. This was from a "wildflower" seed mix my mom had given to me. It grew last year and bloomed this year.

Various bees and wasps are busy in the orchard dining on Apricot and Plum flowers. This wasp was one visitor.
Many of the daffs are now in full bloom or melting.
A "pink" variety. 

Driveway entrance.

The Spicebush is in flower too.

Last night I came home to this madness:
One of the largest I've seen:
Crazy Ice Balls!

My little helpers give me fuel to garden.

Get off the friggin computer already! Blah Blah Blah.

Happy whatever this season is!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Yard Becomes Produce Department

I don't know that I will ever figure out exactly what it would take to sustain my vegetable needs independent of the grocery store, but when you start to look at your yard as the produce department you begin to think a little more creatively. What do they say about poverty and the mother of invention? Not that I consider myself poor, but I consider our lifestyle choices unsustainable and thus creating poverty.  Do I need to buy more yellow onions from the store- no. I have tons of green onions that would do. I think I've figured out how to sustain my onion requirements. Maybe next year I will be able to sustain my tomato needs- salsa, pasta sauce, canned tomatoes, fresh maters. I think I could do it. Perhaps I just need to figure out 1 veggie per year. It would also require better record keeping, which is one of the motivations behind this blog. Timing is the other thing. While I can predict the length of daylight I can by no means predict the weather, which is becoming predictably unpredictable. Crazy storms this winter. Thunder and tornadoes in winter. Gardening isn't for pessimists.

I threw together this yummy little winter salad this week from young kale, grated overwintered carrots, turnips (or was it a rutabaga?) and green onions. I gently sauteed it in a little olive oil (not local, but I wish) and a splash of red wine vinegar. Not only was it pretty, healthy and completely fresh it also got rave reviews from the 7yr old.

The first daffodil, a cyclamen-type, was the first to bloom on February 27th. I don't remember one blooming that early before. There are crocus finishing up as well. The crocus, while not native, offer an early food source for the honeybees (also not native). Here is the winning daffodil under the Blue Spruce tree.

Another new crocus type I tried this year was Crocus sieberi 'Tricolor'. It has opposite colors from the Goldilocks variety and opened after Goldi. The bees have seemed to prefer the yellow crocus over these. Wonder why. 

I started some seedlings early this winter when I started to think that we were never going to have a winter. My psychic abilities may have paid off. Today I planted 20 Tronchuda (leafing) cabbages in about 4 square feet of space in the garden. I haven't grown these before this year so I have no idea what kind of space they will require, but I'm all over maximizing use of space. As these are a leafing type I can harvest bottom leaves as they are ready which will free up some space as the plants grow. How much food can you get in a given area depends on how creatively you want to garden. The square foot and biointensive methods or French method of gardening maximizes space while limiting weeds and work. I'm game for that.

I also started hardening off some plants WAY earlier than ever. In these trays I have parsley, leeks, purple broccoli, white hollyhocks, perennial cornflowers, American agave, cupid's dart and purple coneflowers. Last night we had frost so I had them under the front porch and covered them with a sheet, but I don't see a reason why they can't be outside already. 

Miner's Lettuce in the garden (returns on its own)
Sweet, succulent and crunchy.

The Alder and Hazelnut are in bloom (catkins).

When I can't be outside I turn to my basement greenhouse. The cuttings I threw in a dish tub last fall are doing very well. More plants for free!
Plectranthus (silver), Geranium (green, foreground) and I can't remember the name of the purple plant.

Left- Monarda citriodora and Right- Golden Feverfew seedlings. 

I start most seedlings in mushroom and tofu tubs. I like the aluminum cake pans to bottom water the tiny seedlings. Watering over the top can bury the seed, increase fungal problems and drown seedlings. 

Tomato seedlings. 

Time to do more planning. Where am I going to plant all of the things I want to grow? Will a day come when I run out of space? I try not to think about that day. I challenge you to consider adding more of one veg, try canning this year or adding to your garden varieties to decrease your food carbon footprint this year. Happy Victory Gardening!