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Poor little guy.

February 16, 2010

Feb. 16, 2010

I woke up this morning and opened the blinds of my kitchen window to this sad little sight on the outer sill:

I thought, oh no! A goldfinch (one of my favorite birds) died of exposure on MY window sill. After wading through thigh-deep snow and battling a holly shrub to get to my window, I put him on a paper towel so I could get a good photo of him to help me ID him before I buried him.

Turns out he’s a myrtle warbler. Because of that yellow patch on his rear, some people also call them “butter-butts.” I was pretty mystified how he got here — we don’t have many stands of wax myrtles around here, save a handful here or there as part of the landscaping in some people’s yards. But we did have some fierce gales just yesterday, and I’m thinking maybe he was an unfortunate individual who got blown off course from somewhere around the Chesapeake Bay beaches — where myrtles do grow, and in abundance.

RIP, Butter Butt. Good to make your acquaintance!


Seeds arrived minutes before the snow did.

February 8, 2010

Feb. 8

So literally I got my seed order in the mail just moments before Snowmageddon II really kicked in. It had already been snowing a little bit all that day, but the mail came and there they were! This year’s crop.

Thinking I’d be safer to be at my in-laws’ house (power outages + being snowed in + husband working an unknown number of emergency shifts), we headed over there with the baby and I was RIGHT in the middle of going through the package when…the power went out. There was almost a foot of snow on the ground at that point already, and the house is on a hill with a pretty steep grade. Suck. No power for the next 2.5 days!

I wasn’t able to get out to take pictures of the garden site — no point, anyway; it was completely obscured by the nauseating amount of snow we ended up getting.

Anyway, here’s my new seed stock for 2010. I’ll be supplementing this with leftovers from last year, including some seed I collected and saved myself, as well as anything else interesting I can’t resist once the season really gets going.

This year's new seeds. Sorry for the fun giraffes and alligators in the background -- the high chair's the only flat, neutral surface with good light!

It was so popular and abundant last year, we're growing even more chard this year.

I'm attempting lettuce yet again. Several specific varieties instead of a mystery mix.

Chioggia beets, out from under the thumbs of gourmands and into the dirt.

Frost makes me laugh.

February 3, 2010

Feb. 3, 2010

Reading Robert Frost’s poem “Blueberries” was like watching a really well-directed short film. I love the dialogue. But it isn’t just that the back-and-forth is a conversation; it’s a description of this world and its very lively characters. Plus, it reminds me of some pretty golden times of my younger years when my family and I would go for a walk and stumble upon a blackberry bramble loaded down with fat, sweet fruit, warmed by the sun. Or German women out in the woods, bent over with their baskets, picking June blueberries from bushes on the forest floor.

“You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson’s pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!”

“I don’t know what part of the pasture you mean.”

“You know where they cut off the woods–let me see–
No longer than that?–and the following fall
The fire ran and burned it all up but the wall.”

“Why, there hasn’t been time for the bushes to grow.” Read more…

The trees know something we don’t.

February 2, 2010

Feb. 2, 2010

There’s a snow on the ground again, though it’s already melting — more may come tonight, they say.

Despite all that, this winter hasn’t seemed nearly so oppressive and long. It’s because when I look up, look down, look around and see fat buds on the trees already. If only I could be as prepared and as patient as a tree waiting for spring.

I’m glad the garden has its blanket of snow, though that doesn’t seem to stop the squirrels from rooting around here and there for whatever it is their subterranean rodent-radars detect.

But it’s only 5 weeks until planting-time. A mere month!

The Celtic festival of Imbolc was yesterday (thanks, Karen) — the mid-way marker between the respective beginnings of winter and spring.

Seems the trees know this pretty well on their own. I took a stroll around the yard in my wellingtons and had a look-see for myself.

3-season garden plan.

January 22, 2010

Jan. 22, 2010.

I figured it would be easier to just sketch out the planting plan I came up with instead of trying to make a techno-savvy (ha!) Photoshop diagram.

Spring 2010

The leeks, oregano, parsley and onions are already in place from last year. I’ll probably take the oregano out after this year, since I’d really prefer not to have an entire bed full of oregano in 2011. The parsley is on its second of two years, since it’s a biennial, and will come out at the end of this growing season.

Pea varieties I have leftover are “Dark Seeded Early Perfection”; a sugar snap variety; and Fedco “Blizzard” snow pea from 2009. I’ll also be using some leftover “Cherry Belle” radishes.

The shade on the southern end of the biggest bed is created by a shed that stands there; this is less of an issue in the summer, but really limits what I can put in there during the bookend seasons.

Summer 2010

For the summer, I get heirloom tomatoes from Mount Vernon — yep, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. They usually sell a very limited quantity of their plant starts at the annual Carlyle House plant sale fund raiser. Last year, I got five varieties, plus a sixth I picked up at my local farmer’s market. Peppers will come from any old place.

I’m planning on dedicating most of the southern-most bed to growing an interesting-looking variety of cantaloupe, since the husband says his father loves fresh summer melon.

The northern bed with chard, parsnips and onions gets a fair amount of shade from a pesky maple tree growing next door, so we’ll see how that stuff does. Kale did alright in there last summer.

The mini herb-garden was the only thing I could come up with to put in the sunniest bed that wasn’t a member of the potato family. I’ve got enough beds to do a 3-year rotation for tomatoes, which hopefully is enough.

Fall 2010

Shade makes a comeback next to the shed, so I’ll try cabbage there for the fall. Lots of spring vegetables will make another appearance: Asian greens, carrots, lettuce. I’m excited about the fennel: great in soups, pastas, and roasted!

Parsnips did pretty well in 2009. I planted them too early, so they hogged up a lot of space all through the spring, but they were good eating after the ground froze in December: huge (average of 10 inches!) and very sweet. Not mealy or pithy at all.

Seed order 2010.

January 22, 2010

January 22, 2010

After taking inventory of what was leftover from last year's seed stock, it was time to order for 2010.

It’s wintertime. What’s the cabin-fevered gardener to do?

Peruse seed catalogs, of course.

I just wrapped up the planning for the 2010 edition of our backyard garden. I ordered all my seeds from Fedco since I had such good success with their stuff last year, plus they have tons of varieties of EVERYTHING to pick from.

It was trickier this year, since I’m trying to be conscientious about rotating the plants that go in. I’m especially concerned about the tomatoes and peppers, since I lost several plants last year to blight and/or fusarium wilt. Add that to the fact that we only have 4 beds we’re working with, and it means I had to get creative with my garden plan this year.

I’m planning on getting my heirloom tomatoes from Mount Vernon again this year. Sorry to say it, folks, but as much as I want to grow heirloom tomatoes and peppers from seed, I just don’t have the space or equipment — we’re apartment cave-dwellers, and I don’t have the money or room for heating trays and grow-lights. My in-laws don’t want them at their house, either (the garden is in their back yard.) So, unless I can find a local source for heirloom peppers, they’re gonna come from Lowe’s or some place like that.

I’ll use leftover seed from last year for most of the rest of what I’m planting.

What I ordered yesterday:

  • Chioggia beets — famous on Top Chef-style shows for their showy, concentric inner circles
  • Red Ace beets — Early producers
  • French Breakfast radishes–longer, white-tipped radish of Martha Stewart fame
  • Tyee spinach–Fast-growing, frost-resistant, mild-flavored
  • Red Sails lettuce (looseleaf)
  • Buttercrunch lettuce (forms a head)
  • Bright Lights chard–reprising its starring role from last year’s garden
  • ‘Arava’ cantaloupe — Israeli cultivar. For the father-in-law
  • Thai basil
  • Anise basil — said to be the best kind for tomato-based sauces
  • Zefa Fino fennel — bulbing type
  • German Chamomile — for making teas
  • Tatsoi — asian green
  • ‘Shuko’ pac choi — 12″ tall with dark green leaves and bright white stems

All this came to about $22 (including shipping), so I’m pretty pleased.

The novice’s main problem: too much reading.

June 23, 2009

June 23, 2009

The most recent exciting developments:

I’ve pruned about 50% off each tomato plant after learning about suckers. Fruit production still continues well! Although I lost sleep over whether or not I’d inadvertently killed my tomatoes… I want a sweet, home-grown tomato so badly I can taste it.

Carrots have become a victim of my impatience. I pulled about 15 baby carrots and ate them (yes, I shared them with the husband and his sister, home from college). They were all different colors: pale yellow, white, beet red. The longest was about 5 inches. Having a hard time resisting pulling them ALL out to snack on.

Meal-sized chard harvest about once a week now. I’m a huge fan of the cut-and-come-again. My mother didn’t even know what to do with it when I told her about it, but my husband and I love the stuff sauteed or baked with some parmesan cheese, and all of the husband’s family enjoys it very much too.

Peas continue to soldier on, putting out a handful of pods every few days. Sadly, for all the thready show, this doesn’t amount to more than a crunchy treat for a thirsty worker.

Corn is already about 2 feet tall now! Still unsure if spacing is inadequate. Squash seems to be growing well. Beans starting to overtake the corn. I hope the warm weather coming will inspire faster stalk growth.

Many flowers blooming: coneflower, purple native geraniums, cosmos, some coreopsis. Unsure of how thrifty things will be in the clay; I’ve only modestly amended that section of bed with compost.

Also been thinking hard about crop rotation.