Thursday, January 29, 2009

More early spring activity

Look, tiny baby leeks just waiting to go in the soil!  Leeks have not in the past been a big garden crop for folks in Eastern North Carolina, so I don't really know what to expect from a spring planting.  I imagine they could have been planted in late fall, but I am excited to try them out here in late winter.  I was thrilled to find these beautiful plants near home at our local "down east" nursery in Williston.  Nothing is more fun this time of year then stepping into a nursery's greenhouse filled with young transplants just putting out their first leaves; unless it is getting to locally buy leek and onion sets for the garden, in January!  These babies will go in the ground as soon as I figure out where I want them.  (I once set up a beautiful picnic dinner in a greenhouse full of spring vegetable transplants, in February, in Pennsylvania.  My husband, who prefers to eat dinner in a chair at a table, did not quite get the same thrill as I did.)

Note the red spring coloration on the blueberry stems, as well as the buds swelling and almost ready to open.  Don't tell the garden it is still winter; the plants believe otherwise.  The hens are thrilled it is time to change out the garden plants.  With essentially nothing left for them to destroy, I let them out over the weekend to enjoy the yard.  They stuffed themselves with the fresh green weeds that are happily growing throughout the lawn.

Finally, a little late, here is a photo of the orangequats as I prepared then for orangequate marmalade a few weeks back.   Aren't they beautiful?  The marmalade is not so bad either.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Peas and Strawberries in the ground

My spring planting has officially started!  This weekend I planted two varieties of sugar snap peas.  One was good old original sugar snaps, which grow very tall.  They were planted on one end of the garden bed, next to supports where I will weave twine for them to hold on to as they climb. The other was a newer variety ("Sugar Daddy", I think), that only gets 24 inches tall.  I planted that one in a 3 inch wide band of seeds, and hope that the plants will grab hold of and support one another.

I also planted my first strawberry bed.  I was so undone when I didn't get any plants in this fall (October is a great time to plant strawberries here), and  when I found plants in the local big box store two weeks ago, I was thrilled.  They were packed in white plastic bags, 10 crowns (small live plant bud on top of 7 in long roots) to a bag, 2 bags to a carton.  Except for one set of 10 crowns, I stored the bags in my cold attic for two weeks while the bitter weather passed over.  I planted the other 10 crowns in a large pot and put it in a downstairs south facing window, just to see how the crowns responded.  

When Saturday dawned a little warmer, I pulled out both the dormant bagged plants and  the planted crowns, which had new, green leaves and were growing strong.   I planted them all in a new bed prepared just for them. The photos you see here are a small crown as it came out of the bag, one of the plants only one day later (Sunday), with new small leaves emerging, and one of the plants that had already spent some time in a pot in the window.  They are watered in, and will have the added advantage of a cloudy week (new transplants don't like bright sun).  If it gets really cold again, I will pile some leaves or straw around the new plants.  The varieties I planted were Earliglow and Tristar, for no better reason than that they were the ones available right now, when I wanted to plant.

Finally, I was asked about the bee hives.  The smaller hive in the last, snow day, photo has a hive top feeder below the top.  This allowed us to feed them sugar water twice this winter in hopes that the tiny hive will survive.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Is anything more beautiful than snow when you live in an area that sees snow only once every 5 years?  I was out just after sunrise and caught these photos of the bees, chickens, and citrus trees.  I hope you enjoy them.  This weekend I plan to plant my first sugar snap peas in the garden and hope to start some of my spring transplants inside under lights.  I'm taking bets on whether my plans lead to action or not!

Also included is a photo of the bok choy and collards I harvested the night before the bitter cold hit this week, along with the herbs I collected and dried in a very low oven.  You see a jar full of dried thyme (my new most favorite herb), a small amount of dried cilantro in the other jar (I couldn't let it go), and a bag full of dried parsley.  On the same day, I pulled out most of the remaining lettuce, but left the kale, tatsoi, and arugula, as I expect them to do fine through the winter. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

It's winter . . . it's spring . . . it's winter . . .

January weather in coastal North Carolina is bizarre.  In the last few weeks the poor plants, bees, and hens had to put up with temperatures from the twenties to the sixties, and boy are they confused.  The bees have been out flying as though it were spring (and visiting the blooming dandelions).  I worry that, with all the activity, they will use up all their stores and be too weak to get through what could be the really cold time from late January to March.  I fed the smaller, weaker, hive a half gallon of 1:1 sugar water in a hive top feeder this weekend.  I hope that will help tide them over.  The larger hive still feels fairly heavy, so I will leave them to their stored reserves, for now.  They have such very different personalities:  Dolly's hive was out and about in full force yesterday, despite the cooler, damp weather, while Loretta's girls were hunkered down, waiting for the cold they must have sensed was coming.

The chicken coop is still full of feathers, as molting continues.  Pauline's patch of red below her beak is larger and brighter than before, and little Lena seems to now be filling out to become larger than Pauline: it may become difficult to tell these two black hens apart.  One egg a day right now.  That should increase as the length of the sunlight increases each day.  Here are the hens and Expresso after I gave them broccoli leaves and other extra greens from the garden.

The extended warm days have given me the chance to harvest more lettuce before a good, hard freeze kills it off for good.  The carrots were are getting now are like candy; I had forgotten how good a carrot can be.  We have either a salad or cooked greens, or both from the garden most every day.  As space empties, I am thinking about the spring planting that will begin soon.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

This year . . .

Ah, time for garden resolutions.  Do any of these sound familiar?  This year:  I'll cover any tender plants still in the winter garden before the big freeze.   I'll plant the early spring garden in time.  I'll watch the hives more carefully and manage the bees more skillfully.  I won't say yes to more baby spring chicks.  I'll get soil tests for all my garden spots.  I'll have a long term plan before I start planting anything.  I won't say yes to more baby spring chicks.  I'll install the block walkway to and patio around the garden beds.  I'll plant the late spring garden in time.  I won't plant too many tomato plants.  I'll keep the new spring chicks out of the new spring garden . . .

Still lots of goodies in the garden, as you can see.  Everything is still much smaller than it should be due to the chicken induced, very late final planting, but we are getting enough lettuce and greens, broccoli, and carrots to have something from the garden every day.  I imagine that our final garden harvest weight count would be increased by at least 25 pounds with a proper fall garden, as that is one of the times when our gardens here really shine.  I stopped measuring harvest weights on new year's day, but  I'll add up the final harvest numbers and post them in the top right block on the blog later today.

This year I will eat things from the yard without having to bring them in and weigh them first!  I will, however, try to include photos of garden produce, eggs, and honey being prepared for the table.  They won't always be glamorous.  Take this photo of mixed russian and curled kale sauteed with olive oil and garlic; Frank said he wasn't all that excited about it when he saw it, but then found it was exceptional when he gave it a taste.  I'm finding that greens cut into ribbons and sauteed are much faster and have a very different taste than steamed greens.

It will be a very good year.  (Do you know how cute tiny baby chicks are????)