Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – May 2017

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Quite a few changes in the garden between the time I left on vacation the 3rd week in April and yesterday.  We had torrential rains while I was away, leaving many of the borders and much of the lawn under inches of water.  We had a fairly rainy weekend as well, but softer showers which were able to seep into the ground as quickly as it arrived leaving everything green and sparkling with rain drops.

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Despite the rather wet weekend, I was able to get a little planting done in the vegetable garden.  Another 50 or so walla walla sets went in, as did the first planting of carrots and beets, into the raised beds.  The regular beds are still too soaked to plant.  The week is looking dry and warm however, so hope to get the lettuces, kale, chard and a few other types of seeds planted.  I’m feeling a couple of weeks behind due to the trip.

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I was able to get a little spot weeding done in some of the flower borders.  I also bought and planted 3 Japanese Willows (Salix integra ‘Hakaro Nishiki’), two in the front yard and one in the back next to the gazebo, and a Gold Thread Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’) in the rock garden.  Picked the first rhubarb of the season on Saturday, and we’ve been cutting asparagus since we returned; looks like a banner crop this year.

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The majority of yesterday, however, was spent planting out 20+ containers.  I still have another 7 to fill, but ran out of annuals.  I feel another trip to the nursery coming on!  Sadly it will have to wait until after work today.  Alas, Monday has arrived…

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Here are a few other photos, taken yesterday, of what’s blooming in the garden.

 

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One of the late blooming varieties of daffs in the borders
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One of the pear trees now loaded with blossoms
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Okay, this isn’t blooming yet, but the black currants are loaded with buds
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Pear blossoms
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There are few things as delicious as freshly cut asparagus

 

Garden update

As usual, it’s not been a stellar start to March.  The month arrived with its typical, unpleasant  fervor.  Cold temperatures — in the negatives yesterday with wind chill and a toasty -2 this morning on wake-up — with some snow showers off and on over the past couple of days.  Looks like were heading for some warmth (30s and 40s) over the next few days though, so we can all thaw out once again.  The ducks and hens will be eternally grateful.

So, as you may imagine, not much happening in the garden, except for the necessary pruning, which I will get back to today.  I pruned the young fruit trees and Japanese Willows last weekend.

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I also started my inside seed sowing last weekend, and will plant another cell pack of 50 today.  To-date, the following have been sown:  salvia (Victoria, Flare, and Fairy Queen), pinks, Sweet William, Echinacea, Gaillardia,  foxglove, 4 varieties of sweet peas and cauliflower (“Purple of Sicily” — I love the color of this cauliflower!).  I won’t sow any additional seeds for another 3 weeks.

 

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Sweet William, grown from seed, and planted last spring in the new rose garden

 

Wildlife update: the spring/summer birds are returning to the area.  As mentioned, I’ve seen flocks of Canadian Geese flying overhead, and our family of very large crows have returned, as have the starlings.  We love having the crows back.  They are marvelous watch dogs and keep the circling hawks from eating the hens!  Granted, I become somewhat less enamored with them with they start helping themselves to my edamame seedlings – apparently a delicacy in their world.  But life’s often a trade-off, right?

The “Three Sisters”

And he gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.  –  Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s TravelsIMG_4700.JPG

It was spectacular over the weekend, so I spent a lot of time out in the gardens weeding and planting.  I was able to get ¾ of the beds planted in the vegetable garden.  I’m still hardening off the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, so they won’t go in the ground for another few days.  But I was able to get most of the vegetable seeds planted, other than the pumpkin patch which I will tackle this weekend.

I haven’t planted corn in the veg garden for several years because it was just too depressing to lose most of it to our very persistent crows.  But with some pressure from my other half, I caved this year and bought some seed to try it again.  I decided though, after my permaculture reading of late (and listening to my youngest brother who’s been using this method for the past couple of years), to give the “Three Sisters” method a whirl.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it was/is a planting method used by some of the Native American tribes to grow their 3 staple crops – corn, beans and squash.  It’s a natural fit for the permaculture crowd because the method makes use of the symbiotic relationships of these 3 types of plants. 

In theory (not having tried this yet, it’s all “in theory”), the corn grows first creating a pole for the beans to wrap themselves around.  The pole beans (they can be any variety – I planted Kentucky Blue pole beans) fix nitrogen in the soil, which in turn feeds the corn.  The squash plants (this should be a vine growing squash rather than a tall sprawling mass like a zucchini or yellow squash variety) provide shade to retain moisture in the soil and keep the weeds at bay.  The prickly leaves also act as a deterrent for some pests.   I planted a table acorn squash.

From a permaculture standpoint, the three vegetables also provide nutritional essentials for human survival – starch/sugar/fiber from the corn, protein from the beans, and vitamins from the squash.

For anyone interested in trying this method, you create a small mound about 8-10” wide and 2” high and plant 3-4 kernels of corn in the center; then plant 3 bean seeds at different points around the mound.  Create each mound 3 feet from the next and plant your squash half way between the mounds.  That’s all there is to it.  I’ll take photos throughout the growing season to document how well it works….if the crows don’t pluck the corn seedlings that is!

Early Spring

It is still early spring here in the North.  I need to keep reminding myself of this fact.  We’ve had some gorgeously warm days in the high 60s and low 70s over the past week or so, with evenings in the 40s.  The local nurseries are bursting with beautifully colored annuals. The daffodils, early tulips and hyacinth are blooming and glittering in the sunlight.  Young wildlife abounds – especially the small bunnies who insist on devouring my phlox and lilies!IMG_4526.JPG

And yet this morning I awoke to 33 degrees.  The next two nights are flirting with freezing temperatures.  I know I should be used to this after 5 years of gardening in North Country, but it riles me a bit every time.  Why?  Because once we have that first week of consistently warm temperatures, no matter how many times I tell myself not to put plants out prematurely, I inevitably do so. 

I’ve been a little more disciplined this year, but I did go out to my local nursery on Friday after work and picked up a car load of annuals for my containers.  I spent yesterday afternoon beginning the process of sorting and combining colors and varieties into pleasing combinations and potting them into containers.  I then sat them outside (I was working in the barn) to water and let them get some sun, even though we had gale force winds yesterday and it never warmed much past 40 degrees.  Of course, knowing that cold temps were due last night, and will be again tonight and tomorrow, they were brought back into the barn and house for the overnight.  So this process of bringing scores of containers and flats out from inside, and watering everything, will now add another 20-30 minutes to my morning “before work” routine.  Thankfully I get up at 5am!

In my anxious anticipation to get going in the garden, I’ve also begun to harden off some of the annuals and herbs that have been growing inside over the past month or so.  The remaining cauliflower, some Brussel sprouts, leeks and dill transplants, as well as three kinds of potatoes, were planted on Saturday.

But it appears I need to exercise a bit more patience before any of the more tender annuals and perennials go in the ground.  Hopefully I’m up to the challenge.

In the Vegetable Garden…

This past week and weekend was a busy one in the vegetable garden.  My brother, Jim, constructed some beautiful arches out of maple saplings.  They stand sentry at the eastern gate of the garden.  I’ll plant snap peas, scarlet runner beans and possibly some nasturtium to grow up and over the arches.  They need to be quite sturdy to withstand the winds that whip across the pasture and orchard (even though we’re surrounded by woods on the southern and western sides of the property).IMG_4374

I also planted the shallots, yellow and red onion sets, walla wallas (sweet onion), shelling peas, kale, dill and spinach.  This coming weekend I’ll plant the first round of beets, carrots and lettuces.  I use succession planting with those three in particular so that I can stretch out the harvest.  Tonight, after work, I’ll plant the snap peas and some additional shelling peas.  That will be it until we’re safely past the last possible frost date, which won’t be until May 18 or so (on average), then the remainder of the direct seeds and transplants go in.

My shearer arrived at 1pm yesterday and my 3 little dumplings, Jemima, Tallulah and Delilah, had their spa day.  They’ve now been sheared and had their hooves trimmed.  They must feel loads lighter and can now see without obstruction once again. 

While we were out at the barn shearing, Nora and a couple of friends who joined us to observe noticed two baby bunnies, each one sitting in opposite corners of the run-in. They were so adorable!  By the time I returned out to the barn to tuck in the sheep around 7 last evening, one had left the building.  The other remained huddled in the corner.  I told Nora if she was still there this morning, we might have a new pet.  She looks so vulnerable.  I won’t be able to resist the urge to scoop her up, bring her into the warm house (it was 30 degrees at waking this morning, and we’re expecting 20s over the next 2 nights) and protect her.IMG_4467

 

 

April Chores

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We’re half way through April and we’re finally getting some warm, dry days.  This weekend promises to be spectacular with temperatures in the high 60s and sunny.  So, let the garden clean-up begin!

Slated for this weekend and next:

  • Weed and edge the raspberry beds.  I was remiss in my weeding of these beds towards the end of last summer and I’m paying the price – lots of grass has moved in and is smothering my precious raspberries. 
  • Weed, edge and feed the blueberries.  My brother dug a 6” x 6” trench around each bed, which we will layer with cardboard and fill with straw.  I jokingly refer to it as the Canal, since as he was digging it was filling with water (our water table was so high from snow melt and rains).  Thankfully the water has since receded.  This is what happens when you tell a guy “do a little edging around the blueberries to keep the grass at bay” and then leave him to his own devices. 🙂
  • Broadcast seed in the sheep pasture.  I’ve been slowly trying to improve the grass selection for the sheep over the past couple of years by annually spreading a northeast grass mix from Nature’s Seed.  It’s a mix of Kentucky Bluegrass, Orchardgrass, perennial Ryegrass, White Clover, Birdsfoot Trefoil, and Chicory blended specifically to provide nutrition for sheep.  They love it!
  • Pick up new roses and black currants from Old Market Farm and plant.  I ordered 4 additional currant bushes (I have 2 that Rich and Vanessa, owners of Old Market Farm, gave to me to try last year).  The 2 are residing in my vegetable garden/potager, but will need more elbow room as they grow.  I’m not entirely sure where I want to locate all 6 bushes, but it will be somewhere in the orchard.  For roses, I’m adding a Hippolyte (purple), a Benjamin Britten (red), and two Madam Hardy (white).  Getting these in the ground where I want them is going to require some relocating of other plants, and possibly the creation of a new bed.  We’ll see.
  • Spring cleaning in the chicken coop.  I cleaned out the duck coop a couple of weeks ago.  I allow the bedding to build up in the coops over winter since it creates extra heat inside as the straw and hay decomposes with the manure.  It’s unpleasant to clean come spring, but the deep bedding adds an additional 10 degrees or so of heat to the coops.   In winters where our lows can reach -30 degrees, every degree of warmth helps.  We also piles hay bales up against the outside walls of the coop to act as an added barrier to prevent the heat from escaping.  The bales are removed in the spring and are usually added to the compost piles.  This year, I have a couple of areas where I want to start building up the soil for future plantings, so I’m going to start layering with the spent hay and then toss on grass clippings, etc throughout the season.
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The hollyhock bed early last spring – long before the hollyhocks make an appearance

 

  • Cut back perennials from last year and start cleaning up mixed borders.  Since I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 or so separate mixed borders (some as long as 60’), this is no small undertaking.  Thankfully I knocked out a few of them at the end of March when we had some decent weather.  But I still have a fair amount of cleaning up to do – edging, cutting back and topping with compost.  I’ll probably do a little broadcasting of forget-me-not, poppy and hollyhock seeds in select beds as well.
  • Muck out the sheep barn.  Another joyous and smelly job!  I also use the deep bedding method in the sheep barn, although the 3 dumplings can withstand some pretty severe cold temps with their 4+ inches of wool.  It’s very heavy work hauling out wheel barrow after wheel barrow of soiled straw, but it will make wonderful compost and mulch by next year!
  • Sow my 3-4 week seeds inside.  I’ll sow another 100 cells, and pot out some of the other seedlings that have been growing for the past couple of weeks.  Everyone is looking healthy and happy in the “nursery.” 
  • Sow the cold crops in the potager.  This will include the first planting of carrots, beets, lettuces and peas.

I always feel exhausted after creating the April to-do list.  But I try to take it one job at a time, and just savor being outside in the garden once again.  It’s always wondrous to see the new life pushing it’s way out of the ground.

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Tulips in the front border last spring — we’re not quite there yet

Sunday Garden Journal

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It’s a chilly, blustery Sunday morning, the woodstove is roaring, the dogs are napping at my feet, and the bread is baking in the oven.  I’m feeling in a leisurely mood, so since my  initial plan was to use this blog as my online gardener’s journal, let’s review what’s growing in my indoor nursery at the moment, shall we?

I have roughly 200 plants in seed trays and pots right now, with another 100 due to be sown in 3 weeks.  That may sound like a bit, but in the expanse of our landscape, they will barely make a dent – believe me.  I’ve been planting non-stop for heading into my 5th year here and I still have way too much lawn. 

So, here’s what’s cooking:

Flowers

Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’ — this is a perennial in zones 8 and up, but treated as an annual in our neck of the woods since it won’t overwinter; will tolerate poor soils and some drought; has a deep blue flower (and it’s a true blue, which is rare) and blooms from June through the 1st frost.  I use it as a filler in the mixed borders, as a butterly attractor, and simply because I love the color.

Digitalis purpurea (common name: Foxglove) — biennial and prolific self-seeder; quintessential cottage garden flower; comes in shades of pink, purples and white; I have many purple varieties already in the garden; this one happens to be the Strawberry Foxglove variety; they are attractive to bees, butterflies and certain birds.

Dianthus barbatus (also known as Sweet William or Pinks) — also considered a cottage garden flower; they look like tiny carnations and come in a variety of colors — shades of pink, red and white; these work wonderfully in front of the border.

Echinacea purpurea (common name: coneflower) — a perennial that blooms from mid-summer into the late fall; a favorite of the bees and butterflies; a not just another pretty face, Echinacea is an excellent immune-booster.

Dahlia – varieties: David Howard (orange with deep burgundy foliage; I love the look of this plant (see below)); Wizard of Oz (pale pink with a pom-pom blossom similar to the David Howard; White Flower Farm shipped this in error, so I thought I would give it a try); Worton Blue Streak (actually lavender  in color, rather than the blue that the name suggests); Kelvin Floodlight (a huge pale yellow flower — seriously, each flower is 8-10″ wide).  Dahlias will not overwinter here, but I dig up the tubers after the first hard freeze kills off the foliage and store them in the basement.  I replant them in pots in March and by the time we’ve had (hopefully) our last freeze in mid to late May, they’re ready to go back into the ground outside.

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Crocosmia Lucifer is a show-stopper; a brilliant, fiery red with deep green, blade-like foliage; it’s hardy up to zone 5, and I’ve had no luck overwintering it outside.  I’m going to baby these few I’m growing from seed, probably grow them in containers for the next couple of years, and bring the bulbs inside for the winter.

Hollyhock — it is, of course, impossible to have a cottage garden without hollyhocks (the old-fashioned, single bloom variety); I adore them and have them in a variety of colors — pinks, burgundy, white and yellows; they are biennial, self-seeders and you’ll have volunteers popping up all over the garden if you leave them to their own devices; they look marvelous planted at the back of the border, and against walls and fences.

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Hesperis matronalis (commonly known as Sweet Rocket or Dame’s Rocket) — a perennial that blooms in May; it can grow 3-4′ tall and produces pale purple flowers; the foliage gets a bit ratty looking post bloom, so I put this at the back of the border; butterflies love it.

Campanula persicifolia (common name: peach-leaved Bellflower) — self-seeding perennial that form foliage clumps out of which shoot 12″ stalks with delightful, little bell-shaped flowers in either white or purple; good for in the front or middle of a mixed border.

Campanula medium (common name: Canterbury Bells) — this is my first time growing this biennial, it can reach 2-3′ tall; flower colors come in pink, white, and purples; also considered a staple of cottage gardens

Echinops ritro (common name: small Globe thistle) — a perennial that is very attractive to butterflies; it grows 2-3′ tall with a deep purple flower and gray-green foliage.

Cleome (also knows as spider plant) — annual — predominantly in shades of pink or white, in a good year, the plants can tower up to 6′ tall.

Myosotis (commonly known as Forget-Me-Nots) — self-sowing biennial, they can produce masses of pale blue flowers with yellow centers if allowed to freely self-seed and can create a spectacular, early spring show; they prefer shade, so are perfect for under shrub and tree planting; butterflies love them.

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Sweet peas — an annual; a 6-8′ vine with wonderfully fragrant flowers

Vegetables

Cauliflower (‘Purple of Siciliy’) — an heirloom variety and quite tasty

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Eggplant (‘Casper’) — a first for the garden this year; a white eggplant (probably evident from the name) that originated in France.

Peppers (red and yellow varieties); Leeks; Tomato (‘Thessaloniki’) — medium sized slicing tomato; and Tomato (‘Koralik’), cherry tomatoes for the hens and ducks.

Herbs

Thyme; Lavender Hidcote; Lemon balm; Chamomile; Chives