Tag Archives: garden

flowers & vegetables

End of Quarantine, Spring Re-Opening

Spring has now arrived with full force, and it matters not if human-kind has re-opened or not, the world of wildlife is ready for business. Oscar, the largest of the resident snapping turtles, returned to the lake in our back yard this week to spend the summer as he always has. He comes up the driveway in the muddy ditch line, then crosses the side yard and climbs up and over the bank around the water. It’s only by luck that we ever witness this silent quest, and in our 20+ years here, we’ve caught the crossing maybe three or four times. I believe the local goslings are perhaps now big enough to avoid becoming his dinner, but that remains to be seen. The parental geese still are keeping the young ones off the water for the most part, so perhaps all eight young (five from one nest, three from another) will survive the season.

Some who read this column will remember that our last hen went missing in December as we were visiting family in Virginia. Winter is not a good time to start chickens, but the moment the quarantine hit, I ordered more hens. Nothing like a pandemic to make you feel like you need your own supply of eggs. I know some people order chicks by the hundred, but I selected four hens of select breeds and paid extra for them to be sent at 6 weeks of age. I’ve named them Sassy (Buff Orpington), Lacey (Silver-lace Wyandot), Coco (Easter Egger), and Simone (Australorp). Frank has been working to increase the fortitude of our chicken pen against ground and sky predators. We also purchased a battery back-up for our automatic chicken door, having realized that there are enough power outages here to skew the timer on the door and cost chicken lives.

Our beehive caught us off guard this week, producing three swarms in three days. Two swarms gathered low in a raspberry thicket along the garden fence and were captured. The third swarm took to the air and very quickly moved across the field, around the barn, and off into the wilds of Bear Fork. Keeping bees is more challenging even than keeping chickens. Some predators and diseases can wipe out a hive in just a few hours, and the warm-cold-warm-cold tendencies of West Virginia early springs can be tough on a hive. We thought we had lost our last hive in March, but now we have three hives in place again.

We are starting the garden late this year, but I have peas and lettuce in pots on the porches and have been harvesting asparagus for a few weeks now. Once “serious” gardeners who worked from home, we now do the best we can in the spring and wish the garden luck. Our jobs prevent us from winning most of the battles against weeds and invasive insects, and typically by late July, we have lost the war. As long as we get to have a few tomato sandwiches, I’m happy. I notice the asparagus patch is thinner this year, and also that my patch of chives is thin this season as well. Perhaps the winter was too wet? Either way, I will attempt to place some new plants in each of the patches. We love asparagus, and I am accustomed to constantly harvesting fresh chives throughout the growing season.

A deer came through one night and nipped the buds off of most of my Asiatic lilies, my most prized and beautiful spring blossoms. I typically spray them with a mixture of dish soap and water a few times in the spring (along with my hostas) but I got sidetracked by other quarantine projects and was too late. I will have to be satisfied with the more fragrant blossoms of the peonies which will bloom soon, but the sweetness of their flowers draw ants, and I have to shake out the insects before bringing cut blossoms inside to place in a vase.

I am glad to have these diversions from national and worldwide current events. The chickens do not care if I’m wearing a mask, and the bees are not out to murder or infect anyone. Even seeing the snapping turtle, Oscar, as grouchy as he is, was like a reunion with an old friend. I can sit and watch the chicks for hours, mesmerized, like watching a fire, a lava lamp, or a fish tank. I’m so grateful to be in rural West Virginia, especially now. I feel protected from “the outside world” here, and the world outside my door offers entertainment, distractions, and opportunities for restoration and calm.

Next week, the world re-opens even more, to a new normal, a world that requires safety measures and sanitization. But today, this weekend with the sun shining warmly on my shoulders, it feels so good to get my hands in the soil, to scrub afterward to wash away poison ivy oil and not some infectious disease. I can almost feel my body absorbing Vitamin D from the sun, my immune system building a defense against the stressors of life. Somehow, I find myself believing that everything, at some point, will be all right.

ONLY ORGANIC: Making and Using Mulch | Two-Lane Livin’

mulch

I will be eternally grateful for the day I read the article below on Mulch, written by Sue Cosgrove for Two-Lane Livin’ in 2010. I haven’t yet gotten to the point she has – I still use a hoe early on in the season – but we have made use of many of the various mulch methods Sue mentioned to save our backs from excessive hoeing and weeding.

ONLY ORGANIC: Making and Using Mulch | Two-Lane Livin’.

ONLY ORGANIC: Echinacea – AKA The Coneflower | Two-Lane Livin’

Echinacea purpurea plant

Purple Coneflower is such a beautiful perennial. I love that it is wonderful to see — and is also so wonderfully useful. I have several plants in my garden, and even so, I still purchase already dried echinacea to make sure I have enough for tea through a five or six day illness – for two.

I knew echinacea was an anti-biotic, but I didn’t know all of its uses and properties until I read the following article Sue Cosgrove wrote for Two-Lane Livin’ in 2011. Everything you need to know:

ONLY ORGANIC: Echinacea – AKA The Coneflower | Two-Lane Livin’.

The Many Uses of Sweet Corn | Two-Lane Livin’

Corn

When we plan our garden every year, I am reminded of the column below Sue Cosgrove wrote for Two-Lane Livin’. We have tried growing corn every year since – – without much luck. The first few years, I think our soil was lacking, and the years after that storms or high winds just laid the corn down flat.

This year, I’m buying seed corn again, and thinking about the promise of all its possible uses upon harvest.

The Many Uses of Sweet Corn | Two-Lane Livin’.

The Loofa Plant (Washrag Gourd)

Luffagourd

About two years ago, a gardening mentor handed me something I had never seen before. A small round loofa – grown in her yard.  How quaint, I thought, and brought it home and put it up to save for seed – somewhere.

I have not been able to find it since.

So this year, while perusing ebay one evening, I came across a listing for loofa plant seeds. Since this year’s garden plans include expanding the herb and flower garden for use in some bath products, little loofas seem to fit the theme. So, I bought some seed.

A vining plant, I’m hoping to plant the seed along the fence after the early peas have been harvested. If successful with them, I can use them to decorate the bath sachets I hope to make next winter. The seed I got off of ebay didn’t come with instructions, so I found several web sites that were helpful:

http://www.luffaseeds.com was very helpful, and inspired me to get them planted in trays right away.

http://www.seedman.com/loofah.htm surprised me, because I didn’t know there was more than one kind, and also had no idea which kind I had ordered.

This is one of the “new” plants I am trying this year, just for the fun of it. I’ll keep you posted as the season progresses.

Hands in the Dirt

Well, the time off from the garden has ended. We finished last year’s in early November, and with the arrival of the seed packets recently, the game is again afoot. The seed trays and potting soil have been sterilized and set out for this year’s garden.

It is early in the season yet, being winter and all. However with row covers, it won’t be long at all before we can sow lettuces, peas and more outside. Meantime, the “spare bedroom” has become the seed nursery again.

In a review of the seed collection we have, it seems that this year will be a year for cabbage. Our stock seed was getting a little too old (germination rate drops the older it gets), so it’s time to plant the old and place the new into stock.

Today we planted four trays of cabbage; two green species and a red.

traysthumb

I”ve mentioned my intention to re-invent the herb garden, and that process begins with two trays of chive seeds and half a tray of dill seed.

Soon I’ll plant parsley, yarrow and stevia outside in the new perennial garden location.

But not yet. Not quite yet.

Once the ground temperature reaches 40 degrees though, the rules of the game change. I can harvest the winter carrots, the horseradish, the winter garlic. I can start dividing and transplanting the herbs that need moved – Lemon balm, thyme, oregano, lavender.

But for now, we have to keep our planting reined in – don’t want to get too far ahead. Cabbage, chives and dill…

That’s a good start.

The Year of the Chives

Chives

Funny how we measure time by the height of a tree or abundance of a bush. I can remember when we broke ground in our tiny garden – now expanded to the size of a football field. I remember the year we planted the apple and pear trees, when I sowed the small seed that now is a tangled wandering mess of oregano that covers four square feet. I remember the year I brought home a tiny, scraggly chocolate mint plant – that has since taken over half of the perennial garden.

This will be the year of the chives.

I’ve been wanting chives for several years. I even bought a plant a few years back and placed it in the garden. That was the year we expanded our flock of hens, and the new leghorns taught our lazy fat hens how to fly out of their fence. The chives were not big enough to survive the scratching.

Apparently, I bought chive seed sometime late in the season last year — two packs. I put them up for the year, and forgot about them. I didn’t go through my saved seed before I ordered new seed this spring, and I ordered more chive seed — two packs.

So, I started lots of chives — two trays. I’ll plant at least six (or more) of  the starts in the new perennial garden we’re starting this year – and perhaps the rest I’ll take to the plant swap with the CEOS club, give to friends or sell at a farmer’s market.

I love chives. I like to chop them when they’re fresh and freeze them in freezer bags or ice cubes. I’ll toss an ice cube into the rice cooker, warming soup, etc.

Chives have been reported to have anti-cancer, anti-clotting, antibacterial, antiviral and decongestant properties. Studies have shown that a greater intake of allium vegetables(onions, garlic, leeks) is associated with lower risk of several types of cancers, especially stomach and prostate cancer. The leaves of chives have been found to have a high antioxidant activity and are also packed full of flavanoids.

In Chinese herbal medicine, chives are used to control bleeding and to treat fatigue. The leaves can be applied to insect bites, cuts and wounds and the seeds used for treating problems associated with the kidney, liver and the digestive system. Chives have also been shown to help lower cholestrol when included in a balanced diet. They are rich in vitamin A and C and contain a small quantity of iron.

Chives are a pretty plant as well. Spiky little bunches with pink flowers in the spring. The seed I plant now will bloom in a year – and will season our foods for years to come.Everyone needs at least one bunch in their garden, or in a pot on the porch.

I’ll keep you posted on the chive development as the season progresses. And years from now, I’ll likely remember this year as “the year we planted the chives.”

Garden Dreams Arrive in Seed Packets

Seeds

Within the seed packets that arrive in the mail, so sprout the dreams for this year’s garden.

Of course, we ordered the staples, heirloom tomatoes, sweet peas, half runner beans. The spaghetti squash were such a hit last year, we’re trying them again this year. Pumpkins, peppers, leaf lettuce — all things we’ve done before.

But this year, I’m also hoping to grow more supplemental feed for the chickens. Amaranth, sorghum, lots of sunflowers. I’m even trying peanuts, but I’m not so sure they’ll be for the chickens.

I’m revamping the herb garden this year as well. It didn’t take long for the oregano, thyme and chocolate mint to over grow the original herb garden, and now with so many chickens,  rabbits and deer, the herb garden really needs moved inside the main garden fencing.

I’ve spent a small part of the winter researching ways to combine gardening and sewing, two of my favorite creative outlets. I’m planning much of the herb garden for some new aromatic projects from the sewing machine.

Most of the herbs I have established were planted for medicinal purposes – and they’ve matured enough to start some serious dividing and harvesting this year. I have thought about making tinctures, but I think mostly I will work with dried at first. This will definitely be the year to harvest Echinacea, comfrey, horseradish. I also hope to get new starts of lavender, and will attempt to start some from seed. More chives, more parsley – which I put in darn-near everything I cook now.

As for the veggies, I don’t see us trying much new. Some different beans, maybe. What we’re learning now is how much to plant for our canning purposes,  and how best to grow it. We need to improve our method for corn, and would like to trellis the cucumbers somehow. More, more, more peas — not quite so many potatoes. Try eggplant – again. Perhaps three times will be the charm.

The one new thing we’re starting this year is Asparagus – to be planted and not harvested for several years to come.  I never liked asparagus – until I tried fresh picked, cooked right. It was superb. Who knows what will happen? But if we don’t plant it, we’ll never have our own.

Dreams, plans – some which can’t be harvested for years. All arriving in small packets to the mail box.