Friday, March 5, 2010

Hello March!


Snow boots are still required but slowly, very slowly, the snow is melting to reveal dormant grass. Temperatures the last few days have delivered perfect melting conditions; they climb to the mid-thirties by noon and then drop down to the low twenties at nightfall. The snow is making a beautifully slow exodus. As the drifts slowly creep away, our desire to turn the earth, plant lettuce, and revel in the feeling of soil in our hands increases tenfold. 

So what are we left to do? Grab a shovel and get started. There’s no time like the present!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bundle up!

With snow in the forecast and December right around the bend, it’s time to finish up winter preparations. Container plantings are my focus this week. I tossed pots of flowering annuals in the compost pile weeks ago, but I’ve enjoyed watching the hydrangeas and butterfly bushes as they prepare for winter. Once green leaves turned yellow, red, and a deep, silky shade of burgundy and the hydrangea flowers took on a lovely tawny color. Unwilling to miss this exhibit of nature’s beauty, I left the containers in place until the plants are now leafless sticks.

If left outside during Iowa’s brutal winter, the roots of these containerized plants will freeze and the stems will likely succumb to the drying winter winds. An insulating blanket of soil and snow buffer the temperature extremes for shrubs planted in the garden. An unheated, insulated garage will do the same for shrubs in containers.

I will water my containers well and then move them to the garage. Steer clear from storing woody plants in a heated space. The heat may promote unwanted midwinter growth. Optimally, the storage space should be consistently cool with temperatures ranging from the upper 20s to low 40s.

If you don’t have a suitable space to store your shrubs over winter, use the garden. Simply dig a hole in the garden and plant the shrub and pot. Place soil around the pot as if you were planting it. The soil will protect the roots from temperature extremes.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fall dressing

It was out with the old and in with the new for the copper hanging baskets a few weeks ago. The annuals are in the compost heap. I replaced them with colorful gourds from a farmer’s market. The best things about these beauties, they don’t need water or frost protection to look great until Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Buried Treasure

It felt good to get my hands in the dirt this morning. Most of my garden chores this time of year involve end-of-season harvest, weeding, and trimming up wayward perennials. The feel of cool earth between my fingers as I planted bulbs was just the inspiration I needed to finish preparing the garden winter.

I filled the part shade garden along my wrought iron fence with some spring bling. I planted the little jewels between hostas, deadnettle (Lamium maculatum), ferns, and coral bells (Heuchera spp.). Wanting the most bulb-bang for my buck, I focused my bulb planting in a garden that we walk by many times a day. The garden is right along the sidewalk that leads from the backdoor of our farmhouse to the distant garage, corncrib, and chicken coop.

Embracing the garden’s woodland feel, I planted four petite bulb species with the hope that the bulbs take on the look of woodland wildflowers come spring. ‘Minnow’ Narcissus is a tiny white-to-pale yellow daffodil bearing four to five flowers per stem. ‘Pink Giant’ Chinodoxa has a star-like pink flowers with white centers. Grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.) are 3- to 4-inch-tall stems with clusters of purple flowers. And ‘Ruby Giant’ crocus (Crocus tommansinianus) has purple flowers that hover just above the soil.

It’s not too late to plant spring bulbs. You can plant them until the soil freezes. Make your purchase soon though as supplies are dwindling. I love to shop at John Scheepers and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

Using her teeny shovel Hannah helped me dig holes. When it came time to place and cover the bulbs she was perplexed. “Mom, why are you hiding those?” she asked. I told her all about how they put down roots and then after the snow comes and goes, they’ll send up leave and flowers. I bet she’ll go check on them tomorrow to see if they have emerged yet. This will be an exercise in patience, for both of us.

Hide some treasures of your own!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Better than candy

Forget the Snickers, Crunch Bars, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. I fill my candy bucket with these orange spears. Despite my foibles—forgetting to thin them, harvesting them in late October—they are scrumptious. Sweeter than any carrots I’ve bought at the grocery store, I find homegrown carrots rich in flavor. Carrots make there way into stir fry, soup, and salads at our house, but our favorite way to enjoy them is to cut them into 1/4-inch medallions, cook until tender and add a bit of butter, kosher salt, and brown sugar.

Carrots are members of the notorious dirty dozen—a list of 12 pesticide laden of fruits and vegetables compiled by the Environmental Working Group. Along with peaches, apples, and bell peppers, carrots in the produce section often contain traces of chemicals. This small fact makes growing them yourself even more enticing. Not only will your carrots be pesticide-free, they’ll also be flavor-rich.

Carrots were a plant-weed-forget vegetable in my garden this year. I planted the common variety ‘Danvers Half Long’ in late May. Growing 6 to 8 inches long and 2 inches thick at the shoulders, it’s perfect for multiple uses. I hesitate to plan shorter varieties such as ‘Thumbelina’ and ‘Short’n Sweet’ as I know I won’t bother to peel a 2-inch carrot.

Enjoying garden-fresh carrots until next March and beyond is as easy as scrubbing off the soil after planting, allowing them to dry, and then tucking them into plastic bags and storing them in the refrigerator.

Don’t worry the Halloween candy at our house will not go to waste! We’ll eat up all the Kit Kats right after we have a few carrots.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Green Envy

I wish I had as much energy as my green beans. This year they are more prolific than I am productive. Every few day I walk down the row and harvest another small bucket of slender beans. I am continuously amazed how fast these small buckets add up to a heaping bowl full of beans ready for fresh eating, canning, or the freezer.

This year I planted ‘Derby’ and ‘Slenderette’ from Renee’s Garden. ‘Derby’ is a long-established, standard variety. It has been through the gardening paces, winning the All-America Selections award, a sign of plant quality, vigor, and productivity. ‘Derby’ didn’t disappoint in the vigor category—it turned out copious amounts of beans. But more often than not, I was drawn to ‘Slenderette’ for the quality inherent in it’s name. The thin green pods were crisp and delicate all at once. If forgotten on the bush for a couple of days, they maintained this quality, to my amazement.

Living in an age where commodity food production is the norm, ‘Slenderette’ is a delightful departure from the standard green beans that overflow bins at the farmer’s market. With this tiny bit of new knowledge I’m going to look beyond the readily available bean cultivars next planting season. While may of us have embraced this idea concerning tomatoes (i.e. ‘Green Zebra’, ‘Yellow Pear’, and ‘Amish Paste’) for years, I have been slow to branch out into unique varieties of other vegetables.

And for all those beans this year, they are nestled in my freezer and a few are packed in jars in the cupboard. I delight thinking of the joy they’ll impart on some cold, snowy night in the middle of December.

P.S. With so many beans, yellow lab Annie had the chance to munch a few too. Variety means nothing to her. She quickly took a seat in the grass below the tiny hands that were feeding her though.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rainy Day Remedy

I can’t think of a sweeter way to add sparkle to a dreary day than this little bowl full of ‘Sugary’ grape tomatoes. A steady rain began pelting the porch roof yesterday afternoon. Today, 24-hours later mind you, the steady pitter-patter of raindrops continues. Prairie Creek is out of its bank and ebbing and flowing through our bean field. The chickens convalesced to the coop for the remainder of the afternoon. And the dogs are sleeping away the day on their very own couch in the garage.

Any other August we would have welcome a gentle rain—a “good soaker” as we say. But the soil is saturated from previous liquid gifts from Mother Nature and another 5 inches is the last thing we need.

Which brings me to the tomatoes. A pick-me-up was in order this afternoon and the tomatoes seemed to beckon like little rubies just waiting to be gathered. Lacking proper rain attire, I donned my cotton coat, cowboy hat, and Birkenstocks and squished across the soggy grass to the garden. With amazing foresight—more like sheer luck—I planted my grape tomatoes at the end of the row so I could pluck them from the vine without sinking ankle deep in mud. I stuffed the pockets of my coat full of tomatoes and grabbed a handful of basil before retreating to the porch.

It may be raining outside, but we’re having little bits of sunshine for dinner tonight.