Last Harvest, First Harvest

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Today I dug the very last of the potager’s 2016 crops: “Parisian”carrots.  This is the first time in forty years that I’ve left crops to overwinter in the garden.  Always before, everything not eaten immediately was harvested and canned, frozen, dried, or dug and stored.  Now that I’m 70, I view things a bit differently.  Why should I use all that time and energy to dig carrots and carry them to the basement to store in bins of  moist sand?  That sand is too dang heavy to tote down the stairs.  And then the carrots must be brushed to remove the sand and carried back upstairs.  So, as a trial I left one short 2′ row in the potager just to see what happened.  Actually, I expected them to freeze and turn to mush, especially when we had below zero temperatures with no snow blanket to insulate them.  And, although I’d debated covering them with a tunnel or some other protection, I procrastinated so long that winter was well underway and I shrugged, “Why bother?”

The Parisian carrots (shown above with a standard teaspoon for size relationship) were selected as the trial variety because I liked them least of the eight kinds planted.  I didn’t hesitate to make them the sacrificial test group.  Initially, they were an impulse buy because those little round carrot balls just looked so darn cute on the seed packet.  parisian-packet-compressed  And, they are French, or at least they have a French-sounding name.  Shouldn’t  a proper potager have some French veggies?  I also justified my purchase by recalling how poorly carrots had performed in the past in Indiana’s hard clay soil.  However, the new potager has lovely raised beds and decent soil (although it needs improving) so there is no reason to use only the top 2-3″for carrot growing.

The 2017 garden plan has no room for Parisian carrots.  They are a waste of good space, when I can double or triple the poundage by growing longer carrots in the same amount of footage.  That tiny little colander was all the harvest from 2′!  And I HATE peeling them.  (Younger ones can be scrubbed with a brush and eaten skin on, but these were hairy adults.) And they have big cores and not great flavor, at least to me in comparison to the others.  (The others:  Little Finger, Royal Chantenay, Nantes Mini Core, Danvers Half Long, Scarlet Nantes, Red-Cored Chantenay, Adelaide)  But I will definitely plant more carrots later in the season this year to winter over in the potager beds.  Definitely next winter there will be a tunnel over them for protection, or at least a good layer of mulch, and whenever the ground is not too frozen I will dig beautiful, fresh carrots.

I was a bit sad to dig the last crop from the potager, but as I gathered up the carrots I noticed a tuft of green in the south interior border.

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The chives were already  4″ tall so I merrily snipped some at the base.  The first harvest for 2017!  Last harvest and first harvest all at once.  That’s plenty of reason to smile 🙂

Posted in gardening, harvest, kitchen gardens, Potager, preserving, raised beds, Uncategorized, vegetable gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Goodbye Snowmen!

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The first crocuses are bravely putting on their show, so it’s time for the snowmen to go!  Since early November, three wooden snowmen with their jaunty red scarves have decorated the front garden (above) and the potager’s front borders.

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Through rainy storms, hail and snow they have manned their posts, always smiling.  I always smile back.  Maybe it’s their cute carrot-y noses.  But with the arrival of the crocuses, Mother Nature has signaled that it’s time for change, so I carry the snowmen back to the pole barn.  Their red scarves are removed for safe storage in the house, and they lean against the barn wall, covered with plastic to protect them from curious, messy birds until the gardens are frozen and bare again next autumn.

The gardens look a bit bleak right now, but soon the dwarf iris, daffodils, species tulips and other bulbs will join the crocuses to make a carpet of color.  That, too, will make me smile.

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Look what I found!

crocus-compressed-2017   The first blooms of my 2017 season!  This little patch of “Cream Beauty” popped up almost overnight in the front border outside the potager.  Because it was warm and (finally!) still, I’d gone out to repair a greenhouse  vent, one of which had blown off in the recent strong winds while we were in California last week.  I’d done a walkabout yesterday morn, while it was too windy to do the repair, and noticed there was crocus foliage up nearly an inch, but I didn’t expect flowers so quickly. What a delightful surprise!  Kinda made up for having to haul a ladder from the pole barn, climb up to take the bent vent framework off, find a pair of pliers to get it all straightened out again, find a washer to reinforce the broken screw hole, and put it all back together again.

It was a reminder that I need to reclaim all my tools and reinstate my own toolbox.  After I moved off the herb farm, most of my tools (and there were lots!) were just put into the garage (temporarily!?!?!)  I’d had a bucket of tools generally used in the greenhouse, a tool box under the counter in the Big Barn Gift Shop, and a handful of most-often used tools kept on the golf cart.  Plus there were lots of tools that employees used that were stored in the little garage at the farm.  Last fall, my ultra-tidy husband decided to clean  the garage and in the process put all my tools in with his.  Nicely sorted, so all the hammers are in one drawer, all the pliers in a second, all the screwdrivers in a third, etc., etc., etc.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what is in which drawer.  Searching for each tool and part required more than doubled the repair time.  So, added to my job list is to put all my basic tools back into my toolbox (which I’ve yet to find) and store it in my Lady Cottage.  Little things like that make one’s life so much easier, and make it possible to stay happily married for yet another year.

Posted in bulbs, garden sheds, garden tools, gardening, Lady Cottage, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Green Meatballs

Years ago I attended a gardening seminar featuring a noted garden designer.  Her presentation was basically “Things to Avoid,” with a variety of photographs on the big screen of various gardens, many of which were located in nearby areas.  What a relief that none of mine were shown!  One of the pictures she focused on longest was of a row of evergreens along a sidewalk, all pruned into balls.  “This is one of the worst mistakes a gardener can make,” she declared adamantly.  “Green meatballs!  They don’t belong in the dining room, and they don’t belong in a garden either.”  I took it to heart, never forgot it, and never pruned a shrub into a ball.  However……..

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A decade or so later, (for my 50th birthday!) I traveled to England to visit many gardens that have been praised by experts, some for hundreds of years.  Lo and behold, I found many “green meatballs” in distinguished gardens.  I took the photo above in Rosemary Verey’s potager, where there were several examples there, including this one as well:

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This one is from Hatfield House, the famous Dowager House maze and garden:

hatfield-7  And this one is from the famous Powis Castle gardens in Wales (one of my very favorite gardens!)

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I discovered that “green meatballs” not appear frequently in England, but years later in trips to France, Italy, Ireland, and Germany notable gardens included them as well. (You’ll just have to take my word for it.  I’m not sorting through all those photos!)  Finally, taking courage in hand, I asked the owner of one excellent garden why she pruned some of the shrubbery into balls.  “Oh, that’s a good question,” she began.  “You see, the human eye finds the ball shape comforting, a good place to rest, especially if there are a lot of other shapes and colors in view.  That moment of eye-rest allows the viewer to appreciate the entire picture more pleasantly, more completely.  It’s a shape not commonly found in gardens, other than allium blooms, so it’s good to create it.”

When I planned the front island border last spring, I thought about those green meatballs and decided I wanted some.  So, I purchased ten boxwood plants, pruned them into balls and added three to that garden.  I chose boxwood because I like it, it’s evergreen, and because it can boxwood-balls-compressed  survive growing under black walnuts, which are the majority of the trees in our front yard.  I liked them so much I’ve added two more in pots by the potager entrance, plus a double on the right for height.  potager-gate-compressed  Three more were planted in the front garden, along the sidewalk to the front door and a gold gazing ball echoes the shape.  box-wood-front-garden-2-compressed

In the autumn, the round shapes were echoed by pumpkins.  And at Christmas, by Santa gourds (See “Seeing Red”)   boxwood-pumpkins-compressed

I’m really happy with my green meatballs.  They provide interest right now when the rest of the garden is flat or bare sticks.  They provide unity as a design element throughout, linking the various gardens visually as people stroll from one to another.  They make me happy every time I see them.  I think I’m going to add more this season.  So, the lesson is, listen to the experts but realize no one else should make the rules for your garden.  Some “experts” hate green meatballs; others love them.  Develop your own tastes and follow your heart.

Posted in garden design, garden travel, gardening, pruning, shrubs, topiary, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Heap of hope

labels-sterilized-compressed  Remember that jar of bleach water I carried to the berry rows?  If not, see “About that pruning…”  Well, I carried it back to the house, and rummaged through my supply basket and jacket pockets to find a big handful of used labels and promptly dropped them into the disinfecting liquid.  There was a time, long ago, that I didn’t bother with this step.  However, I try to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them.  Early on in my growing, I decided to save expenses by using labels again.  I wrote on the backs of commercial labels and marked out and rewrote others.  Merrily, I stuck them into newly seeded flats.  Imagine my horror when a ring of gray fuzzy mold began to grow at the base of many of the labels.  Because I was growing hundreds of seed flats, I didn’t notice it on some soon enough, and it spread rapidly across the surface of the potting soil, killing thousands of seedlings.  Since then, I’ve soaked recycled labels in 10% bleach/water and never had a problem.  With the cost of seeds and soil, this simple preventative step is well worth the trouble.

flats-compressed     Next I collected a stack of seedling flats and domes from the storage area in the barn and brought them to the house.  A quick brushing first, and then each one was submerged and scrubbed in a tub of bleach/water and stacked on the counter (covered with old towels) to dry.  4-Pack inserts followed, as well as a few plastic mesh flats.  I use the mesh flats to support the seedling flats.  Having a flat full of precious seedlings buckle and dump while being moved is a heartbreak that can easily be avoided.   I do enough flats that I can use some as covers over flats of seeds that require darkness to germinate.  (Think violas, pansies, gomphrena, etc.) I’ve found that even though I cover those seeds with soil, I get better germination if they also have a light-proof cover.  The clear domes (stacked on top in photo) are wonderful for covering newly planted flats, especially those with rows of seeds that need light to germinate (think yarrow, most daisies, chamomile, etc.)  or dust-like microscopic seeds which are resting on the surface rather than covered with soil.  The domes help keep them moist and protect them from mice or bugs, if those could be a problem.  I keep clear domes on all seed flats after the seedlings emerge until the tallest ones touch the top, then the domes come off.  Of course, if there is too much condensation on the inside of the dome, I tip it a bit.  Also, if these are in a greenhouse where temperatures fluctuate, on a sunny day the domes may need to be removed to prevent overheating.

When I was finished, there was a heap of plastic flats and domes about the kitchen….a heap of hope that this year’s growing season will be as much fun as last year, and even more bountiful.

Posted in gardening, hobby greenhouses, planting, Seeding, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

About that pruning….

raspberries-deer-pruned-compressed  February is a good month here in north central Indiana to do some pruning.  Fall-bearing red raspberries are cut down to about 6-8″ and summer bearing just need old canes taken out.  New canes that grew late summer and fall are left to produce this year’s berries.  Since today is the first sunny day that has above freezing, I sharpened and oiled the pruners and made a jar of 10% bleach water (to disinfect pruners between plants) and happily went to the berry rows.  Imagine my surprise when I found the row of fall raspberries has already been pruned, not quite as evenly as I might have done, but pruned none the less!  You can see them at the very top of the photo, with reddish stems.  Well, mark that job off the list.  The row in front is the summer producing red raspberries.  They haven’t been pruned quite so severely, but many of the newer side shoots are gone.  This row has posts and wire, so maybe the deer were afraid of getting their heads caught…..maybe.

Moving on, there was more dismay.  Here is the row of named-variety elders that were knee-high.  elder-deer-pruned-compressed  I don’t think I’ll be getting berries from them in my remaining lifetime, but maybe they will grow back from the roots.  The same was apparent with the gooseberries, which were 3′.  Obviously, I need to order more Plantskydd and start using it well before the tulips begin to emerge.

gooseberry-deer-pruned-compressed  Before we move on, vanity pushes me to point out that I have fingernails!  This is usually a brief phenomenon, since I don’t wear gloves when gardening or any other work.  Normally by now they’d be broken off during loading and unloading displays for shows, carrying boxes of inventory for the shop, etc.  Fingernails, one of the benefits of retirement!

Since there was no pruning to be done, I did a quick walkabout, searching for signs of spring.  I found lots of this…..

tulip-exposed-compressed  The squirrels have been busy not only in the gardens around the house, but in the potager as well.  There were lots of exposed Tulip batalinii “Bright Gem” that edge the beds either side of the potager’s  east-west main path and even more of the Tulip batalinii “Salmon Gem” that edge the north-south main path.  I re-covered the exposed ones and filled in the holes where others had been.  I will be interested to see how those path edges look this year.  Last year, the “Bright Gem” were adorable, so I added the others last fall.  I may have to fill in for missing tulips with more violas and alyssum this year.  I did find a small patch of green tips in the front garden, green-tips-compressed which was encouraging but even more evident were patches of henbit, a rampant weed that I have been trying to eliminate for over 25 years.  Not sure whether the seeds stay viable that long in the ground or whether birds brings them.

weed-compressed  The ground was too frozen still to pull the henbit with roots intact, so that goes on the job list, and the walkabout continued.  That inspired another topic, which I’ll share another day.  Meanwhile, I hope there is more green where you are.  And don’t worry, that jar of bleach didn’t go to waste.

 

 

 

 

Posted in berries, bulbs, elder, gardening, Potager, pruning, small fruits, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Taking Stock of the Herb Pantry

anise-hyssop-basil-red-pepper-jars-compressed While it continues to be grey and cold, it’s a good time to take stock of the culinary herb supply.  There’s still time to make adjustments to the planting plans and increase or decrease the number of plants needed.  Starting with the herb shelves, it is obvious that there is an ample supply of anise hyssop (on the left) because I don’t use it very often. I mostly grow it for the butterflies, the pretty purple flowers, and the scent.  It’s a perennial, but since I still have an almost-full jar, there should be plenty already in the garden for next harvest. That’s not the case with basil (center.)  It should be noted that one jar of basil has already been emptied, and this last jar has to last until there are new seedlings in the flats to snip, usually the very end of May.  I always start enough basil seed so that I can begin using some fresh and still have plenty of plants to put in the potager.  Looking at my notes, I admit I grew plenty of basil, but I was a bit tardy in getting it all harvested before the nights got too cold.  So, the same number of plants as last year should be sufficient and I must be more vigilant with harvesting.  Two jars are usually sufficient for us, but some years I do three so there is enough for “housewife’s tea.”  The last jar is dried red hot peppers, still full because we used up a half-pint jar first, and I have a spice jar of dried peppers that were ground that I tend to use more often. oregano-basil-parsley-jars-compressed  That’s oregano on the left, and it appears I should have dried more.  We use it mostly in tomato sauce, pizza, and lasagne, but it is useful to combat colds and this has been a bad season for colds.  Obviously I need to let my perennial oregano plant spread a bit more so I’ll get a larger harvest next fall.  Center jar is winter savory, which is great in any bean dish, and with pork.  It’s also a perennial, so I won’t need to add plants.  I also grow summer savory, which I tend to use fresh.  The jar on the right is parsley, and unfortunately, it’s almost empty.  There was another jar used before this one, which tells you we use a LOT of parsley because I was able to harvest fresh parsley from the potager until Christmas and only began using the dried after that.  I’ll add another 6 plants to the planting plan.

mint-rosemary-sage-jars-compressed  These are peppermint, rosemary, and sage.  I had a jar of spearmint, but it’s gone for tea.  I think I’d better divide my hanging baskets of mints and double my production.  The rosemary will be fine, because I have a big, healthy plant near the sliding glass door that I can steal leaves from if the jar is emptied, although we use a lot of rosemary in roasted chicken, roasted potatoes and squash, and in teas. There’s a big bay tree next to it, so I have leaves all winter.  The jar on the right is sage, a perennial, and used here mostly for Thanksgiving stuffing and teas.  I made a half-gallon of dried tea containing sage, honey powder, and vanilla bean which explains why I have so many sage plants.  I also make a lot of sage, rosemary, mint and thyme tea.  And that explains why there is no jar of dried thyme to show you…it’s all gone, as well as the lemon thyme.  Obviously, I need more thyme plants.  Thyme is also great for colds, and helps with mild depression, which is probably going to get worse since today, on Groundhog Day, we had the first sunny day in ages!

There are jars of calendula petals (which are for teas and salves yet to be made); elderflowers (I LOVE, love, love elderflower tea, which tastes wonderful and is used like aspirin); elderberries (to be made into immune-boosting syrup one of these winter days) and a nearly empty small jar of tarragon…I used most of my young tarragon plant making cornichons this summer, so I really need to add two more to the potager.  (NOTE:  Tarragon does not grow from seed, so purchase plants of true French Tarragon.  Seed-grown tarragon is Russian, which gets 5-6′ tall, is a rampant weed that self-seeds all over the neighborhood and sends roots rambling underground, with no flavor to redeem itself!)  There’s still 3 jars of hyssop (used mainly for tea) and 1 of rose geranium leaves (also for tea.)  Have you guessed that I am a tea-aholic?  Half a jar of lavender remains (for tea and scones, and many other luscious things.)  I do keep my dried herbs in clear jars (with tight-fitting lids) because they are stored in a dark cupboard.  If you keep herbs on an open shelf, use tins or dark-colored jars.  Keep them away from heat, which destroys the essential oils and therefore the flavor.

I prefer to freeze snipped chives, stems of dill, and lemon balm because they all turn beige when dried.  I just rinse, pat dry, and store them in freezer bags, breaking off pieces when I need them.  Already out of all three, so I need to do more next year, which means adding plant space.  Still have plenty of garlic and shallots, so I’ll repeat those quantities again.  We’ll tackle the vegetable supply another day!

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