Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Perennial Surprise

We were away for the Memorial Day weekend and had a chance to gawk at the rich farmland along Lake Ontario and the beautiful mountain farms and homesteads of the Green Mountains. We found no shortage of daydreams during the many hours in the car each day. (Ahh, wouldn't 10 acres of field on the Lincoln Gap Road and a sailboat on Lake Champlain be lovely?)

The heat switched on over the weekend and has stayed on, and we returned to the tail-end of the lilacs, the urgent need for thinning salad greens, and a few surprises in the form of blooming perennial shrubs.

I had purchased three or four small perennial shrubs on sale two autumns ago and planted on the base of the wooded slope in the side yard. One shrub was eliminated through the indiscriminate dumping of excavation debris - to be fair, the pepperbush was not exactly thriving or much larger than any of the other vegetation. I vaguely recalled having bought more than one azalea, but I could not find it this spring and figured it had also succumbed to death by clean fill.

Pink azalea flowers look like a bit like hibiscus.

Well - the darn thing did survive! I walked up the side steps and saw a ball of pale pink tropical-looking flowers lying on the forest floor. The azalea had taken a beating, and the flower stalk had been knocked or perhaps trampled to the ground.

Oh so pretty... I love the radial symmetry.
The other wonder of the side yard this week is the rhododendron. Our first spring here (3 years ago), I found a scraggly, half-dead rhody planted in the center of the patio behind the studio and relocated it to the very edge of the side yard. The scrawny plant took a while to establish and never flowered until this weekend. The photo doesn't do it justice, but it is a beautiful bright red color and attracts bees like crazy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Break from the Rain

Today was the first day in over a week where it didn't rain, alleluia. The plants did not mind too much, as the extra moisture and cool temperatures allowed them to establish their roots and acclimate to the garden. I did mind the rain, as I did not acclimate very well and had to wear shoes and sweaters.

The perennials have really greened up. The peas and spinach have been slowly growing, and the onions seem to appreciate the moisture. The lilacs have had electric purple buds for a week, but now have gone whole-hog into unfurling their petals. The scent is just wonderful!

Today was also the first day for harvesting in quite some time - I cut a mini-bouquet of lilacs, cleared out the over-wintered spinach, cut back the arugula, thinned the over-wintered scallions, and grabbed a few stalks of chives. Adam also picked a colander full of chocolate mint. We had our friends/neighbors over for spinach-arugula-chive-scallion quesadillas and mojitos - it was great!
Flowers and spring greens make me happy.

We just moved the little chickies (two-week-old Red Stars) into the coop with the big chickies (one-month-old New Hampshire Reds) and they seem really happy. The coop is nothing fancy just a plywood box with a lamp, but it is a step up from a plastic bin. They are also very happy to eat any little flying insects that may enter their domain - they are extremely coordinated when it comes to mosquito control!

Here's a photo of Yellow - she's got big wingfeathers now but her head still looks goofy.
Yellow might be my new best friend.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Answer to Slugs, Compost and Vegetable Scraps

3-day-old New Hampshire Red
Long awaited, the chickens have arrived!

3-day-old Red Star
We ordered two different breeds, New Hampshire Red and Red Star, three of each - and because the breeding houses are organized according to a schedule, we received the first three chicks during the last week of April and the second three chicks this past week. They will have to live separately until they are full-grown so that the big ones don't pick on the little ones.

Being first-time chicken owners, we really don't know what we're getting ourselves into. And we've have several interesting discoveries already.

Ooh - what's in the box?
First, the chickies come home in a Happy Meal box. Magalloway is intrigued but actually afraid of the baby chicks - they make so much noise and hop around erratically.

Second, the saying "Birds of a feather flock together" definitely holds true for chickens. The chicks do everything together; if one wants to have a snack, they all scurry over to the feeder. If one wants to take a nap under the heat lamp, they all huddle around into a chicky-pile. (Very cute, but hard to photograph - they tend to wake up when people come near enough to take a photo.)

Third, baby chicks grow really fast. We were amazed to watch how the New Hampshire Reds' wing-feathers  and tail-feathers grew day-by-day. The two-week-old NH Reds look completely different now and are "huge" compared to the baby Red Stars. Both breeds as adults will be reddish brown and fairly similar in appearance, but it's fascinating how different they look as chicks.
"Yellow" at two weeks old - we have temporary names for the chicks.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The 2011 Gardening Season Opener

It's been very busy in the garden the past few weekends. The long-anticipated "is winter really gone?" season is now over, and gardening is into full-swing. There always seems to be twice the amount of work than expected and half the amount of time necessary to complete it. Fortunately, the sun doesn't go down until after 8:00 pm now, so I can sometimes fit in a little bit of gardening after work (on those days when I don't have a night meeting).

In between the raindrops, I've planted out all my cold-hardy seedlings (cabbage and onion families), watched my peas sprout, and planted strawberries and a cherry tree. I've also done a lot of "re-organization" that has entailed digging up almost all of the shrubs I've planted in the past 3 years and moving them to a new location. I'm hoping that I will stop "re-organizing" soon, because it's not good for the shrubs to be moved so much, and it's not a very fun task! Speaking of not-fun tasks, Adam and I have both done some work on weeding - somehow the grass loves to grow in the garden but not in the lawn.

A few insights from May-time gardening:

  1. I was reminded why sandals and shoveling don't mix. It's impossible to keep your feet clean and it's just uncomfortable to feel grit between Chaco straps and bare skin. Not to mention that I had to get out an old toothbrush to make my sandals look presentable before going out last night.
  2. My mom is SO great! Not only does she come to my house to visit on the day before Mother's Day and comes bearing olive oil and balsamic vinegar, BUT she also volunteers to help clear leaves and put a variety of plants in the ground. All while wearing a crisp white Oxford shirt. Thanks, Mom! Love you.
  3. Having raised beds really makes prepping beds and planting seeds or seedlings easy. It is certainly an investment of time and materials in the first year, but the second year, I'm just amazed at how quickly I can get seeds into the ground.
  4. I now know what niche I can fill if I ever want to write a book on gardening. It would be called "Front-Yard Pocket Gardening." I had bought 25 strawberry plants and wanted to figure out how to use them as edging, or ideally as groundcover around my cherry tree sapling. And then I wanted to know if I could get away with interplanting low-bush and highbush blueberry in a mini-hedgerow. The Cooperative Extension has great fact sheets on gardening, but they are geared substantially toward the 20X40 row garden in someone's flat backyard. And finding advice about care for fruit trees, grape vines and small fruit is prolific for a production operation or a large yard, but quite scarce for "I have 8 feet between the house and the driveway, and the powerline is 12 feet away."
  5. For all the effort so far, the garden still doesn't look that great. It's really really exciting to see seeds sprouting and leaves unfurling, but it's not beautiful quite yet. See photo below - not what I would call "garden artistry."

Garlic, peas, spinach, scallions and the onion family
Up next - tomorrow, we will welcome 3 new Red Star chicks and move our 2-week-old New Hampshire Red chicks out to their new coop in the shed!