Sunday, December 6, 2015

Keeping Active: Winter Gardening

I love being outside, moving, being productive, making projects for myself and especially when any of this involves gardening. In Britain they call their entire yard their garden. They don't have yards, so when I say I am gardening, you may consider it yard work.

Final Final Harvests
Of course, we are finally experiencing nightly frosts, but there were several threatening days in October and November where I would dig up, cover or harvest whatever remained. I had several "final" tomato harvests. The real one came the third week of November, when we finally got down to 25 F on Friday night/Sat morn.
We are still eating tomatoes that have ripened since the killer frost.

 The above tomatoes were all harvested green and
allowed to ripen in the beer flat in the kitchen (where I could see them daily). 
As they ripen, we eat them. They aren't as good as vine-ripe, but always beat the
flavor of store toms. 

In the geodome house, I decided to harvest all of the eggplant and cut the plants back. I'm curious
to see if they will make it through the winter. I've never had the soil freeze in there, but I have had frosts.
I know greenhouse culture depends more on the difference between high and low temperature, rather than just one or the other. There is a moderating effect. So far, the plants are still healthy looking. 
Final eggplant harvest from dome.

Final pumpkin, pepper and tomato harvest.
I love this pumpkin. It is super productive, even in part shade and
nothing stops it. I've been saving seeds for 3 years. It was
originally from a Autumn Harvest Mix from Pinetree Garden Seeds
so I have no idea what it could be. If anyone has thoughts, please let me know. 

I don't normally pick bouquets, but when I know the flowers are going
to die, I allow it. 
Red Salvia below
 This Salvia was purchased by mistake or
mislabeled in the catalog. I thought I was buying
a different one. Normally, I do not care for this kind of
annual salvia, BUT I didn't know they grew as anything other 
than dwarf. Apparently, the old fashioned ones grew into large (3+feet) shrubs.
This ended up a beautiful, healthy and productive plant, so...I saved seeds and changed my mind.
Seed from Pinetree (with wrong photograph in catalog)

Chickens: The 3 young girls (Mavis, Petunia and Ruby) plus Rosa are laying like crazy! I'm consistently getting 2 eggs per day, even with the shorter days. We are getting some "double yokers" too. See the one on the left? 
Left- double. Right- single.
The single yoke eggs seem smaller than they should be,
but that's okay by me. 

Rooster update:
Mattilda decided one day to stop liking the kiddo. He has attacked her and chased her down the street. If you TRY to read anything on the internet to help with learning rooster language and recovery 98% of what you will read is- make him soup. This is not an acceptable response. Clearly we just aren't understanding each other, so I've made it my responsibility to learn rooster behavior. I'd say 50% of the time I go in the orchard/chicken yard, he pecks my foot. 
Things that are helpful- hold him for awhile and he stays away and Papi keeps him away from me. Give him treats. Treats don't come from other roosters, so why fight me? Walk slowly. Don't look at him. Don't make eye contact. Pretend you don't even know he is there. I've contemplated building him his own coop, but then I feel horrible about the idea of confining him for life. If I could find a person who has only females and wanted him (not to eat) I would probably give him up, because I think he would be happier. For now, he stays and we accept and learn. I really need a book about chicken behavior- if anyone has a source, let me know.

I'm still working on redoing the orchard/chicken yard, which includes new fruit trees (new trimming/dwarfing method), raised beds for permanent food plants and pots (for bees, natives/perennials and things for chickens to eat).
The raised beds/cold frames are made from fencing, which is 6ft long pine. It's super cheap and easy to work with. Not sure how long it will last, however. Below is a cold frame of kale, gailan, chinese cabbage and lettuce. The cover is an old shower door. 
 Below is a long view of the beds in progress. You can
see the geodome in the upper right corner and 2 new blueberry
plants in the lower right corner. One bed is made from
cabinet doors (white). I plan to have things like perpetual chard (already in),
Good King Henry and some other permanent food crops in these. 
 GKH needs a cold spell to germinate, so I sowed it in 
cells and it is in one of these frames, under glass.

 Working on a retention wall. I lose soil to erosion down this slope 
to the drain. Hoping this will help with the slow process of raising this bed.
Green shrubs are Boxwoods and I just added a Holly by the pole (see below).
I plan on topping these 16 x 8 x 6 blocks with something more decorative (brick, natural rock).
New Holly.
Two were planted along this bed for winter interest, screen, 
protection and food source for birds.

Another slow project is this bed behind the garage. 
I transplanted some natives- Joe Pye Weed, Gray Goldenrod and
Short's Aster behind here and recently added these
fallen branches to create a border. 
 Other plants back here: Coralberry, Blackberry, hydrangea, 
concord grape, pecan tree

More projects with fencing:
I built these 1 x 1 foot boxes each from just 1 6 ft fence board.
They are 5 1/2 inches deep, which is great for staring native seeds, 
which have deep roots. I was looking into plastic deep cells for starting seeds, when
this idea came to me. It's cheaper and sustainable. I've started Aromatic Aster seeds in one.
The next one will either be- N Sea Oats or Button Blazing Star. I only have 2 at present, but
want to sew more seeds so....more to come


Growing on:
 Red Trumpet Honeysuckle still greenish
Below: Shallots and parsley
 Multiplier Onions up and green (below)
 Garlic up and green (below)

Gardening still happening:
Transplanting (gray goldenrod)

 Seed collecting (Senna above)
Planning (always). I think I want
a dry native plant in here next year
Maybe Purple Prairie Clover?

Other things you can do now: 
Plant bulbs (yes, still) and they are on sale now. 
Prune- a great time as you can see the bones of the trees
Plant/transplant perennials while the ground is still soft
Mulch- still raking leaves? Spread wood mulch
Construct- to get ready for spring gardening
Plan, plan, plan (my fav part!)
Seed catalogs are arriving.... plan, order too much and
Start seeds! Especially perennials or slow growing things (like peppers-due to my cool basement)

Speaking of which:
The makings of a pizza with homegrown toms

Vegan Pasta Primavera
(really super good- a nutritional yeast sauce)
Who knew?

A dal pancake. So yummy. Not from the garden, however.
 November: preserved Hen of the Woods 
 Veg tacos

Gardening is an under-appreciated activity in many ways- one of which is for exercise. I was pleasantly surprised to find out how many calories I burn compared to my husband's purposeful gym visits or race events. I'm burning more than him, getting Vitamin D, creating food for me or wildlife, creating a pleasant and therapeutic space and accomplishing something other than burning calories for the sake of burning calories. I hate gyms. I don't care for routine. I also think this is cheaper than a gym membership. You can do it without a lot of special gadgets/clothing. I wonder if more people would consider it if it were promoted seriously? 
Anyway, I obviously love it and I hope you do too.

Happy Winter Gardening.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Just Propagation

I feel like a guilty Catholic. Has it really been since August since my last confession, ehr, blog? The end of the summer garden season did have me depressed, but a new season has inspired me. Instead of one incredibly long post to summarize the last few months I think I will break it down to small thematic ones. This week's obsession is vegetative or asexual propagation.

We cleared 2 apple trees from the orchard and then had some crazy wind bring down the plum last week. It was bittersweet. All of the new sunny space, coupled with a new knowledge of dwarfing fruit trees, has me giddy. What new stuff can I have?! I have one Chicago Hardy Fig in a pot (new this year) and one sad hardy (can't remember the variety) behind the garage (a couple years old). I've decided one of these will be planted in the orchard next year. Knowing the garage one will die back this winter I decided to cut the one branch and try to propagate it. 

Fig cutting how to:
Cut just below a node (where buds are/leaves attach-the knobby area).
Scrape a bit of the outer bark layer away, exposing the vascular cambium (where new roots should emerge).
Cut up a few nodes away- making a 4-5 inch cutting in total. (see below)
Dip scraped end in rooting hormone
Wrap loosely in moistened, squeezed of excess water, newspaper
Put in a labeled ziplock and leave on top of fridge (for warmth) Check in 2-3 weeks for roots. 
Once roots have formed they can be planted in pots.

Chicago Hardy Fig 
will bring in when it gets cold

 Wild Hydrangea- two methods
#1 I'm attempting 2 ways to asexually propagate Wild Hydrangea. The first method is an old fashioned and very simple way. I chose a stem in the direction of where I would like more hydrangeas to grow. This doesn't have to be the case. You could dig them up and move them once rooted, but I just want some next to the mother plant.
Scrape away a little of the outermost layer at each node and on the soil side- there were several
Bury the entire branch just under soil
Hold down with a couple of bricks or stones
Wait until spring/summer
If successful, new shrubs should emerge from each buried node.
Urey helping
#2 I cut a couple of younger branches off of the mother plant and brought them inside
I did the same thing as I did with the figs in terms of cutting, scraping and dipping in rooting hormone
Next, I put them in a glass of perlite & water. Label.
Hydrangea on right
Mulberry on left (only cut & dipped- did not scrape) in water only.

Yellow Raspberry Cuttings
Cut, scraped, dipped and put in a pot of compost
Will stay outside for the winter

Planting Fall Tree Seeds (not asexual)
I'd like to add more diversity of trees to our local nature park without having to buy trees, while also getting local ecotypes. I collected some acorns and hickory nuts on a recent hike.
Fall Tree Seed How to:
Plant about 2 inches deep in a pot of compost. Label
Leave outside over winter. I probably will cover with chicken wire to keep the squirrels from stealing.

List of cuttings I'd still like to make this winter:
Illinois Rose
Unknown, hippy rose
Clove currant

I've become slightly obsessed. I can't help but love free plants I've made on my own. 
Happy Propagating!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On Rain, Weeds and Mosquitoes

I'm really disappointed in my gardening self this season. Things started off so well. A combination of plenty of rain (too much, perhaps), mosquitoes and working mornings kept me from keeping up with things- the weeds (mainly smartweed) and rambling vines (morning glories and pumpkins). It's a jungle of less than ideal proportions. I got back from vacay and expected to be inundated with tomatoes, but another 2 inches of rain landed whilst we were gone and the toms took another hit. Plus, it rained more last night with more in the forecast.

The first annual farmer's market is suffering from the same fate. The coordinator says people just don't have a lot to sell.

What is doing okay- the second planting of cucumbers seem to be doing well. The sweet potatoes and pumpkins are everywhere. I'm hoping my second zucchini planting will turn out (the first did not) Peppers are being smothered by vines, but otherwise producing. I really am thinking about a couple of interventions.
1) Raising the beds another block higher and
2) Putting concrete in the pathways
3) Rocking all paths/removing all grass around the garden area

So, this was my return vacation harvest.

 Made into a stew with an added can of chickpeas.

Needing to make space in the freezer- strawberry, blackberry 
and banana muffins
 Made these before vacay, but hadn't posted yet.
Eggplant balls with homemade sauce.

One of my fav meals: roasted veg, corn off the cob, roasted
white beans with garlic, rosemary and evo.

Fall Garden Plans
I also left town with lots of baby greens and they've mostly been mowed down by some nibbler. I have a flat (arugula, chinese broccoli, cilantro) planted on 7/18/15 moved out from the basement and yesterday started Perpetual Chard and Erbette Chard (a new one for me- Italian), also in the basement.  I also have another new green- Tree Collards. In addition, I'm going to grow lettuce in the basement for the winter and started one windowbox of seed on 8/17/15. The chard and collards I ordered from Bountiful Gardens, a new source for me. 
 Three tree collard cuttings came shipped like this:
These will not overwinter here, are otherwise perennial and do not
make seed, so you have to order them as cuttings. I moved them into the basement, as
they are going to have to spend the winter there anyway. They are beginning to leaf out, but I
haven't checked for roots yet. 

Food in Jars
I've scored on some more peaches from the local farm. I got a large flat of seconds for $3 and once again, they've wanted to give me a 2-for, but I passed this time. I have frozen white peaches still in the freezer. This morning I made 4.5 pints of peach jam, with pineapple juice and a little honey (no additional sugar). 

On Chickens
I found a hatchery (Meyer) closer than My Pet Chicken so I decided to order from them this time around (2nd gen of chicken rearing). I regret this decision. Within 24 hrs of receipt, one of the 6 died. So, then there were 5. And now we have come to find that of these, 2 are roos. While I do like them, it wasn't what I wanted and they are here to stay. I did order 2 No Crow collars, to be a good neighbor, but I haven't put them on yet. Poppy, now Papi, is crowing with assertion, but Matilda is still learning to crow. While on vacation Gertie, the Black Australorp (with the limp) passed on. So, we have 4 of the old hens, 3 new hens and 2 roos. 
 The rooster formerly known as Poppy.
Look at me (lower left hand corner) with "Matilda" 
in the back. It's a good thing I like them. 
The "girls" started free ranging this week (age 15wks).
The old hens are bossing them all around.

So, all of this is contributing to my crappy feeling upon return from our Door County, WI camping and hiking vacation. Well, not all of it. The food has been good, but I just generally feel blah. 

Trying to feel positive about a fall/winter garden. Hope the weather and time allows me to do better this season. Must have optimism...

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Odds and Ends

Summer weather overview: 1 warm week in the 90s, but the rest has been cool and rainy. Very weird. We had some crazy sky days as smoke from wild fires in Canada rode a polar vortex down to the Midwest US, blocking out some light of the sun and creating an eerie green haze for days. 
The cool and wet weather has resulted in lots of blight; fungal or bacterial- I'm not sure which, killing many gardener's tomato plants. No loss for me, thus far.

The tomatoes and beans are just coming in. First harvest: 
Black Plum, Sun Sugar and German Lunchbox with Burgundy Beans

Made this salad with an avocado vinaigrette or sauce that we ate on grilled tortillas with cheese. 
With the second day of tomato harvest I made this Turkish Shephard Salad and omg, is this good. I really liked the dill in it. Plus, the colors! Wow.
 I then mixed it with Freekah (roasted baby wheat)
and served it with arepas (Colombian corn cakes). Happy summer meal!

Made this self-feeder for the outside cats. First night the raccoons ate 3/4 of it and that was the end of that. Three young ones have been coming into the house via the cat door recently. They've discovered the inside cat food bowl is JUST inside this door! 3am feedings. AHHH! 

Repainted the bathroom as one of my spontaneous summer projects.
Got some new planters and replanted some old.
 Had 2 of these glass ornaments that came with air plants
in them. One of the air plants died so I replaced them with these orchids
that I found on the orphan rack at Lowe's. 

Got this cool retro planter (below) on the clearance rack at Target.
Not shown- planted today with 3 houseplant starts.
 I also found these hanging egg-shaped planters (below) on the
clearance rack and stuck in some starts left by 
my botany students. Pothos.

I make these every year when I chop down the Cupplant. If the stems aren't hollow, I poke a chopstick in it. My hope is to attract Mason bees. See the stem at the bottom with the grass hanging out? A small wasp has been visiting and doing this. Needless to say I am tickled pink that someone appreciates my efforts. 

In bloom
Plants at back porch.
I don't think I appreciated impatiens enough
until this year. This may just be the right spot for them.
Of course, the weather has been ideal.

Gray-headed coneflower
reseeded in the driveway.
Raspberry Wine Monarda
Particularly loved by the Carpenter Bees.

Wild food
A mushroom-hunting friend of mine came across a gold-mine of chanterelle mushrooms this weekend. We don't typically have them this late, but we've been in a perpetual spring (70/80s) this summer. She gave me an entire grocery bag of them! Talk about love. Tonight I made some bisque as it is cool enough for soup. 
 Oh, so good. Made in the crock pot.
Didn't think I'd be busting that out this summer.

I won't lie. I've been wearing long underwear to bed and we
don't have the AC on. It's that ridiculously nice.
The mosquitoes don't seem to mind. I guess they've loved the rain.

Happy Summer, folks.