Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fine feathers

All four hens finally finished the longest molt in history. They now are stepping out in fresh new feathers, and look beautiful! Now, despite the long nights of winter, we are getting eggs again. Only one or two a day, but that is pretty good for 2 year old hens in the dead of winter. Here they are this morning, eating fresh, although frozen solid, collard leaves from the garden. With all the greens they eat, their egg yolks are gorgeous dark yellow. I made the most amazing eggnog on Christmas eve!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The beauty from the beast

It has been beastly weather here over the last few days. Bitter cold (for us here in coastal NC, I know that cold is a relative term!), with temperatures near or below 20 at night, remaining below freezing during the day. It felt especially harsh because we had such a short time to get acclimated to the cold. Remember, we still had basil and peppers in the garden just two weeks ago!
The garden was hard hit, but, in some ways beautiful. Here is a red chard leaf, frozen solid. The colors are so bright and deep, and the surface shiny and clear. It reminds me of stained glass, and was just as hard and solid. The bed of young mixed greens is not so pretty. You can see how many of the plants have been knocked right to the ground by the freezing weather.
So, what will recover and what is now gone for the year? It is too early to know. The broccoli certainly looks bad, and while the kale is drooping, it doesn't seem as hard hit. Will the chard spring back? What about the young plants? Maybe. When this snap passes, and we get back to more typical weather, I will know the long term impact.

Monday, December 6, 2010

In from the cold

Sure enough, we had our first freeze this weekend (no prior frost at my house, just went straight to a freeze this year). There were two things in my garden that had no hope of making it through the freeze intact: a number of hot pepper plants and one, huge basil. Here you see the box of mixed hot peppers. I have no idea what I am going to do with them! Most of these are HOT. For now they sit, looking beautiful, in a box on my counter. Maybe stuff them in a jar and fill with vinegar that I can use in future bbq sauce?

The green basil leaves are a reminder of summer, and were lovely. I say were because I was so lazy that, even though I broke off the branches and brought them inside, I let them wilt on the counter until they were too sad to consider. Shame on me! For punishment I have to wait until next summer for fresh basil flavor.

One more treat that ripened this weekend, the three tangerines that my tree set. Remember last year when the tree had over 150 of these beauties? Well, last year's record cold killed back the branches to only about 10 inches long each. This was followed by record summer heat and drought. The poor tree is sturdy and green, but had to spend the year trying to survive and recover, and there were very few blossoms. These couple of tangerines were wonderful, and hopefully are just a taste of future, big yields.

Last, but not least in taste: I harvested one of the radicchio plants, doused it in olive oil, and seared it on the grill. I found one butterhead lettuce plant hidden under the arugula. The grilled radicchio and fresh butterhead lettuce made an amazing salad. You have to love a garden that gives you these tastes in early December during exceptional years.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Last minute successes; just say no

Well, it looks like winter may finally come our way tonight. It's delayed arrival, did, however, give me a chance for some last minute garden additions that just may make it! Here you see what I guess I will call a "winter greens mix." 5 weeks ago, on one of the last days of October, at a time that is usually much too late to do such things, I cleaned out my seed stash of all old lettuce, kales, turnips, and other winter greens packets. I figured they were old, and probably would not germinate well, and, to be honest, I knew I couldn't buy any new stuff next year with all these old packets already in hand! I had an open section of garden where the sweet potatoes had been, so I scattered all the seeds throughout. And look! Everything, and I mean everything, germinated. I thinned it down a few weeks later, and now you see a bed of lovely mixed greens. They are small, but sturdy. I will start harvesting some leaves to add spice and color and texture to salads, and will wait and see what makes it though the winter. A fun use for old seeds and a bare patch.

My next, and even later experiment was the garlic you see here. That didn't make it into the ground until mid November. Any other year it probably would have been a bust, and just rotted in the cold, wet ground. Not this year! I have nice, strong new garlic shoots peeking out. If all goes well, I will harvest my first ever garlic crop late next summer. I kept in mind the long season for growing garlic, and put it on the edge of a bed where it won't interfere with my spring and summer plantings.

Finally, here you see a photo of my first efforts at rappini (also called broccolini). This is the green you buy with cute little heads that look like tiny broccoli, and serrated greens surrounding them. It is a great, bitter green for Italian cooking. Well, I expected a short crop, sort of like arugula. After all, when you buy this it is only about 9 inches long. Surprise! This plant grows tall, over 3 feet, before putting out that tiny, now pitiful looking shoot. Your yield per volume of garden space is small, really small. If I had a large garden I may grow this again, as I love the crop, but it makes no sense for my tiny garden. I can grow other greens that substitute just fine (such as arugula), and get a much higher yield per square foot. The good news? The hens love these plants, and I am now pulling out one each day to feed to them.