Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Chomping at the bit!

I’m beginning to feel that a severe winter will make people even more anxious for spring.  That’s certainly how I feel!  Snow is one thing.  I must admit, although I don’t like to shovel it, the snow does look very pretty.  Hides a lot of blemishes in the winter landscape, also.

What I don’t enjoy at all are the brutally cold temps and an ice storm.  All day during the ice storm I kept saying how lucky we were to have electricity.  Our luck ran out the night after the storm.  It went off during the night and was out until noon the following day.  Again, we’re luckier than most folks since we have a generator.  We use it mainly for two things - to keep the heat on in the house and to keep the greenhouses inflated.  Without the fans running, they deflate.  Once that happens, it takes a long time to reinflate them.  If it is windy, the plastic can easily tear and have to be replaced.  So we were lucky in that respect too.

Not so lucky with trees, though.  Our big white pine took quite a beating and lost 5 or 6 big branches.  At least none of the branches hit the house.  And we don’t have any trees in the vicinity of where we park the cars.  W did have a number of branches down or lee stuck up in the trees along the side property line.  That will be some big clean up come spring.

So when I’m sick of looking at winter, I go down to the basement and gaze at the baby seedlings coming along.  I have a couple of batches germinated now - pansies and early perennials.  The latest ones are tiny and hard to identify by sight, since most plants have similar leaves when they first germinate.  The earlier batches look like full-grown plants reduced down to miniature.  I also have some stock plants and topiaries inside, so the basement looks quite spring-like.  Thank heavens!

This week, we get our shipment of soil, pots, etc. which is another sign of impending spring.  Soon, I’ll begin filling pots so that they’re ready when it comes time to transplant.  It’s really a treat to work in the greenhouse on a cold, but sunny day.  As long as the sun’s shining, it warms up quickly.  It’s like a trip to Florida, at least briefly!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Real Winter - Good and Bad

Ah, winter -- real winter, which has been uncommon in the last few years.  I read an article in which a climate scientist  said he was glad we were having a real winter so that people didn't forget what that's like.  So let's see, what's good about it?

Well, the snow is pretty.  I love to look out on the yard and see big swaths of undisturbed snowy blanket on the yard.  And of course, the trees, particularly evergreens, look so nice with a dusting of snow.

Snow is actually a good insulator for outdoor plants.  Which brings us to the bad side of this winter -- the frigid temperatures.  During the first really cold snap, my totally dead car battery had to be replaced.  That wasn't too bad.  Below zero temperatures are hard on plants.

During a warm spell, I checked my outside rosemarys.  Not too encouraging.  My large, three-year-old plant in the 4-square garden looks dead.  The "Paris" variety, supposed to be more winter hardy, looks dead.  I'll give them a chance to come around this spring, but I'm not holding out much hope.  Last spring, someone asked for the rosemary guaranteed to survive the winter.  I laughed -- I've never read and source that calls any variety of rosemary to be definitely hardy here in zone 6.  I always tell customer that I believe it depends more on the winter than the type of rosemary.  Winters like this, with sub-zero temperatures and drying winds, really lessen the chances of any rosemary surviving outside.

Even on the worst winter days, I can check on my little seedlings and realize that spring is coming.  Right now, it's just a few flats of pansies and early perennials, but it's enough to see little green plants pojing through the soil.  The tiny lavender seedlings even have the wonderful scent we associate with large plants.  I'll be starting seeds every week this month and starting to fill pots.  Then I feel like spring is right around the corner!

Lucy likes to play in the snow -- particularly chasing snowballs.  It also seems like animal smells are better in the cold and snow.  Some mornings, she just takes off to run in the back corner and smell what was in the yard.  On the really cold days, she's more content to stay snuggled up inside - who can blame her!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Thank you to everyone who came out for our holiday open house recently.  Friday was a miserable day, cold and rainy, but a few intrepid customers braved the elements on that day.  Saturday was a much better day - cold but clear.  It's so nice to see both old friends and new customers at our open house.  We know the demands on everyone's time during this season, and we appreciate you taking the time to stop by.

I'm surprised that winter has started so early.  I don't like ice, but I must admit, it makes for beautiful scenery - all the tree branches outlined in ice.  Then the snow on top, and coating all the fir trees.  My rosemary plant in the 4-square garden is 2 years old and quite big.  It was outlined in ice and then covered in snow - really beautiful!

Speaking of rosemary - I had a customer interested in buying a rosemary topiary for a gift.  She came with her husband, and they could not decide between a standard or tree form and the ring form.  They debated back and forth until I mentioned that the ring form was blooming prettily, with its small, blue flowers.  I said that people always comment on the rosemary in the garden when it's blooming.  That sold them and I'm hoping the recipient is happy with my suggestion.

Lucy did not like the ice at all.  She walked gingerly and refused to go back out until it warmed up and the ice melted somewhat.  She does, however, love the snow.  When she realized it was snowing, she couldn't wait to go out.  Her favorite thing is chasing, and eating snowballs.

The farm is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm through December 21.  We close over the holidays and the shop reopens on January 9.  Winter hours for the shop are Thursday-Saturday 9-5.

Wishing you all a happy holiday season and an easy winter.

Friday, November 15, 2013

First Frost

Be on the lookout for the fall-winter edition of our newsletter which will be coming out soon.  Included are lots of herbal gifts for your holiday shopping, a yummy recipe (one of John's favorites,) and plant and craft articles.  Also, info on our holiday open house which will be held December 6 & 7.

The first frost wiped out all the basil in the gardens (always the first to go) along with some of the annuals.  The more cold-tolerant or half-hardy annuals survived until the recent hard freeze.  Before the frost, I gathered a large bunch of stems from our Greek columnar basil.  This is a very upright variety, with excellent flavor and long stems full of foliage.  I keep it in a vase with water on the kitchen counter and harvest the leaves as needed for cooking.  Since basil is in the mint family, most varieties root easily in water.  So some stems will develop roots and I can pot them up if I want some plants to go throughout the winter.

Speaking of plants for the winter, we now have a few varieties of potted culinary herbs available.  We will have them up until Christmas.  If you want some herbs for the kitchen windowsill this winter, the holiday season is the time to get them.  Usually, a few people stop during the winter months, looking for plants.  However, we do not heat the greenhouse during the winter, because of the expense.  We start them up again usually in March as we prepare for the spring season.

I was wondering about our greenhouse toad residents.  With the warm weather in October, I didn't see them in the regular spot, the back corner, where they dig themselves into the dirt to hibernate for the winter.  But, at least one has returned with the colder weather setting in.  I saw one out of the dirt - they often dig out on sunny days when the greenhouse gets quite warm.  So I know at least one is still there, although there are several holes dug in the dirt, so there may be a pair there.  I guess I'll find out for sure next spring.  It sure is easy living for a toad, compared to surviving outside for 3-4 months.

Last of the Garden - Late October

(Written around Oct 20, 2013)

I’ve been making a conscious effort to enjoy and appreciate all that remains in the garden before the season ends with the first frost, which may come tonight or almost certainly, this week.  Today I ate a couple red blossoms from my pineapple sage plant.  Very nicely sweet, although not pineapple flavor in the flowers to my taste.  The profusion zinnias are still clouds of color.  Fall anemones are still blooming, along with some perennial salvia, lavender, cockscomb and celosia, late roses, nasturtiums, sedum, marigolds and love-lies-bleeding.  That’s a lot for late October.  I let my basil plants flower at the end, when I’m done harvesting.  Both cinnamon and purple varieties look particularly pretty with their pink blooms.

Annual vines look spectacular at the end of the season.  Hyacinth bean vine is loaded with its shiny, purple pods.  Last year, due to weather vagaries, I didn’t save any seed/  This year, I’ve been able to save plenty.  Another beauty is mina or firecracker vine.  We plant two on an obelisk in our entrance bed.  It is absolutely covered with sprays of red, orange and yellow flowers.  I’ve saved these seeds, but they don’t seem to germinate very well, not as well as the seeds I purchase.

I’ve had a few people ask for small pots of culinary herbs.  We have a small selection - about a half dozen varieties - for sale during the holiday season.  They[‘re usually ready about mid-November.  That gives you something green and herby to get you through the winter months until spring rolls around again.

I’ve been very busy working in the shop, getting it all spruced up.  I have been working on some holiday items, but I’m not putting them out until after Halloween.  Also working on the fall newsletter which comes out in November.

After we clean up the gardens, the last big chore is burying all the stock plants in the vegetable garden to overwinter.  Then I know the growing season is done.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Last Bits of Summer

I've been enjoying the last bit of summer as it winds down. Although I'm many years removed from school, I still feel a little of the end of summer back to school feeling as summer slides into fall.

I love the fall with its clear blue skies, cool, crisp mornings and of course the beautiful colors. As I‘m outside, I try to appreciate the patches of summer remaining~jewel tone nasturtium flowers still blooming, shiny, purple pods on the annual hyacinth bean vine in all its glory, red pineapple sage flowers,(no blooms on mine until September this year) the fuzzy purple flowers of mexican bush sage and the pretty fall blooming anemones and late roses.

I’m still cutting some culinary and tea herbs to dry, but that‘s also winding down. The annual flowers I dry are still going strong-annual statice and gomphrena. Gomphrena or globe amaranth, is a wonderful garden plant, whether or not you dry the papery clover-like blooms. The plants are drought tolerant, bloom from mid-summer until frost, and get very bushy and just covered with flowers by late summer. And the butterflies like them, too. The mixed color variety~purple, pink and white, gets much bigger and bushier than the red form. But I love the red ones for use in holiday decorations

The goldfinch pair are back every day enjoying the coneflower seeds from the big stand in the garden in front of the greenhouse. I’m sure they drop an occasional seed or two-no wonder that patch got so big so fast.

If you have annuals you want to reseed for next year, or you want to save any seeds from a particular plant, make sure you allow some flowers to die on the stalk. They become seedheads. Usually, seeds start out`green (unripe) and darken as they ripen. Shake the mature seedheads so the seed falls, or gather and store either in small glass containers or little seed envelopes. I keep my seeds in the refrigerator. Not necessary for all types, but I think it helps keep them fresh by keeping humidity low.

With the cooler weather, the squirrels are more active. They fascinate, but frustrate, Lucy. She watches them in the trees and would climb up after them if she were able.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Late Summer Musings

l'm glad that it‘s not just my imagination. I read an article in the Lancaster paper about the smaller than normal number of monarch butterfly sightings this year.  Yesterday, l talked to a friend who is also a master gardener. Although she lives on a larger farm, we both have lots of common milkweed growing on our properties and we both grow more ornamental varieties of asclepias (the host plant for monarch caterpillars). Our numbers tallied -- only a handful of monarch sightings this season. I did not have any caterpillars on our swamp milkweed and didn't notice any on the common milkweed that l could easily see. Same report from various people in different locations in the newspaper article. One fellow with acres of milkweed reported only a handful of caterpillars. The article cited a common problem -- destruction of habitat in Mexico and also the decline in the amount of milkweed in our area. I told my friend that I wish we could get the word out to the monarchs -- we have lots of food for both the caterpillars and butterflies.

Monarch butterfly on Swamp Milkweed
Overall, l think the number of butterflies is way down this year and when I compare to the time we moved here, the change is dramatic. Although we had lots of the small whites (loopers,} and sulfers, the number of different species I saw this year was very small. Not a single buckeye, no commas, one red admiral, one painted lady, no larger fritillarys and dozens, rather than the hundreds of shippers l usually see. It‘s a shame to lose such beautiful garden creatures

One interesting sighting though -- John said he saw an adolescent hawk perched somewhere in the gardens when he was outside. That morning, when Lucy and I were walking early, we heard a bird screeching.  I could tell it was a large bird, but it was back in the treeline and high up so I could not get a glimpse.  But it surely sounded like a hawk.  One day, we saw it sitting on the greenhouse door surveying. I was so glad it didn‘t fly into the greenhouse. I wouldn‘t want to try to get a hawk out! We've rescued mockingbirds, wrens, doves and even a hummingbird from the greenhouses over the years. l imagine a hawk would put up a good fight.

Third sighting of a hummingbird this year. We don‘t get lots of them. It was always a female so I think it was the same one each time. I actually see it most often in the back of the property by the woods where they nest. This time though it was near the pergola, seemed to he investigating the sweet autumn Clematis, which is starting to bloom. That's another wonderfully fragrant plant. Like jasmine (also on the pergola) and our big patch of clove pink dianthus, when you walk around the corner of the greenhouse, it’s just a cloud of sweet aroma.

Hyacinth Bean Vine
Also finally blooming is the hyacinth bean vine. The super hot weather in July postponed bud formation. But with the continued rain and the warm Weather, it’s blooming well and beans are forming too. Last year, it bloomed very late and barely any beans were produced. It's so showy when the vines are covered with the shiny purple bean pods.

The vegetable garden is still wild and productive. I canned tomatoes once and l think the next batch I will dry. I grow mostly amish paste and they‘re perfect for drying, Just wash, cut in half and place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. You can season with salt and pepper and some people drizzle with oil, but l just put them in a very low oven (ahout 200) plain and let them go until they get leathery. I store them in bags in the freezer and use them in soups and stews, They can he reconstituted with hot water to use in lots of recipes. The flavor is very concentrated and almost sweet, like tomato paste.