Monday, March 02, 2015

March impatience

It feels like it has been a long winter, but after perusing March blog entries from previous years, I see that 2015 is no different. Despite my wishing it were otherwise, gardening will just have to wait a few more weeks.

I've been reading up on Stoicism. One of its cornerstones is to differentiate between what you can control and what you can't. The weather definitely falls into the latter category.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Wood mulch vs. bark mulch

This week Menards has wood mulch on sale (half off after mail-in rebate, limit 80 bags per household - I purchased 30). I have used this before. Even though it looks weird compared to bark mulch, it does a good job of smothering grass and weeds, plus does not break down as fast as bark. The bag says "100% recycled", so I am guessing it is made from pallets. Not exactly wonderful stuff, but better than shredded tires.

Several of my flower beds are so densely planted that there is no room for mulch, which is the ideal as far as I am concerned. Elsewhere, I need help, at least until I get the right plants and the beds fill in. That is where the wood mulch comes in. By buying it now, it will be on hand when I need it, plus bags are easier to handle than bulk. (I'm getting old.)

In a separate category of mulch, I hope to get a local tree service company to part with some of their wood chips for use in the incipient orchard. According to The Holistic Orchard (by Michael Phillips), ramial wood chips are best for feeding the fungi duff and keeping trees healthy. Even though I purchased a shredder/chipper, I don't have many twiggy branches to process. Again, I need help.

In the past, I have used grass clippings for mulch, but this has been problematic. For one thing, sometimes I treat my lawn with weed killer (I know, bad, bad, bad), and don't want to use those clippings, especially in the vegetable garden. In dry years, when I need the mulch the most, there are few clippings to be had. Also, leaving the clippings on the lawn helps feed it (I have a mulching lawn mower), limiting the need for weed 'n' feed.

Do you mulch, and if so, what do you use and where do you get it?

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Good things about February

I've said it before and I'll say it again - February is the longest month of the year, at least around these parts. Seeds and plants are ordered but it is too early to start transplants inside. The only "gardening" fun I have is eating all the goodies I put by last year.

We have had snow, which some people think is a bad thing, but it is actually good for the garden. Snow shoveling is also handy for keeping the gardening muscles in shape. That said, I am still grateful for the help of neighbors when the snow is heavy and/or too thick.

Garden Rant has been hosting a series of posts extolling or berating the concept of "winter interest" in the garden. I don't plant for winter interest, but I think if you have snow, you can't help but find the yard interesting to view. Better than the usual brown and gray.

Finn suffers from cabin fever, punctuating my day with requests to go out, then two minutes later, come back in. Despite having a litter box in the laundry room, he still prefers the outdoors as his potty. And sometimes he even plays in the snow a bit.

Best of all is the recovery of the Meyer lemon tree, as demonstrated by its current vigor and recent blossoming. If you recall, the poor plant was looking pretty peaked a year or so ago when I took some drastic action. It produced no fruit at all last year, but things look more promising for 2015.

The whole room is filled with the sweet scent of the blossoms. Not every flower will produce a lemon, as the plant is smart enough to "self prune" by dropping the fruit it can't support to ripening. Harvest won't occur until December.

That's a long time to wait, but well worth it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

And so it begins

Last night and today I placed orders for garden seeds and plants. I am ordering from only two places this year, Pinetree and Seed Savers Exchange. And Grandpa's Orchard, once I get a copy of Grow a Little Fruit Tree. If I need anything else (and I'm thinking of pepper plants), I will get them locally.

With that, my gardening mojo is starting to awaken. Sometimes I think I should just give up on the garden, call in a landscaper to make things pretty and easy, and buy my food from the grocery like normal folks do. But this is the first year in a long, long time I can devote almost unlimited hours to the yard and garden, and I want to see what I can do with that. Plus, if I don't garden, what would I do with myself?

Last year the Rouge Vif d'Etamps and Small Sugar pumpkins and the Waltham butternut squash took over the garden, so this year I am trying some hopefully better behaved ones: Bush Delicata, Early Butternut, Orange Magic, and Table Princess squash, and Orange Smoothie pumpkin. I am repeating the blue and red Adirondack potatoes, but adding back in Carola, which I grew several years ago. Otherwise, I am sticking with my usual standbys.

Since I have lost faith that I kept the four garlic varieties I grow properly identified, I ordered fresh bulbs. Yikes! Expensive! If there is any garden plant one should propagate from year to year, it is garlic. Not only will it save money, it is easy to do.

Rats. I just realized I also need to order some blueberry plants to replace the ones that failed last year. Maybe I'll wait to see if the few survivors make it through the winter.

Otherwise, there is not much to do gardenwise besides wait for March to blow in. *sigh*

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Winter blahs

This time of year I get inundated with seed catalogs, and usually I spend x amount of time drooling over the color-saturated photos, wishing I could plant one of each. This year, not so much. I have plans for the yard and garden, of course, but not much enthusiasm is developing yet.

Meanwhile, "my" Cooper's hawk has been out and about in the backyard.

Since retirement, I don't spend many daytime hours in what I now refer to as the TV room or den, so I had not seen this handsome fellow of late. There are plenty of sparrows, though, which is what was on the menu. I hope he was successful.

There has been snow, plus some bitterly cold temperatures. Currently, we are enjoying some mild weather, what some refer to as a "January thaw". Otherwise, I am hunkered down with my knitting, binge watching "30 Rock", and hoping Indianapolis makes it to the Superbowl. Go Colts!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

When life hands you apples

I usually buy apples by the half-bushel from Cook's Orchard, for baked goods and applesauce. What varieties I use depends on what is available when I visit their little store. This year I wound up with a half-bushel of Macintosh and a half-bushel of Jonagold. I also purchased a half-bushel of Enterprise and Gold Rush from Bender's Orchard. I keep the apples in the garage until I get around to using them, not always the best idea. This year I lost quite a few Jonagolds to rot before I could get around to them.

My method is to wash the apples, quarter them, cook them until soft, then put them through the sauce maker (after they have cooled a bit). While reheating the applesauce, I heat the water bath with the jars in the water (saves a step). When the water starts to boil, I remove the jars from the water bath, VERY CAREFULLY dumping 3-4 quarts of water into a spare pot, in case I need to top up the water bath. Some of the boiling water is poured over the new jar lids (another saved step). Then I fill the jars to within 1/2 inch of the top, wipe the rims, add the lids and bands (finger-tight). Then CAREFULLY place the jars into the water bath rack and lower them into the water, topping with the saved water if necessary so that the jars are covered by at least an inch of water. Once the water returns to a boil, I start timing (20 minutes for quarts). When time is up, I turn off the heat and wait about 5 minutes before removing the jars and placing them on towels on the kitchen counter. They sit there for 24 hours before I remove the bands, label the jars, and put them away.

(Note to self: my "8-quart" Farberware pot holds what resulted in 6 quarts of applesauce, from about a half-bushel of Macintosh apples. A full half-bushel of Enterprise and Gold Rush yielded seven quarts.)

A couple of weeks ago I processed the Macs. I added 2 c. water when cooking down the apples to prevent scorching. The resulting applesauce was tasty but kind of watery; each jar had about an inch or so of liquid at the bottom with the applesauce floating on top. (With tomato sauce, the liquid rises to the top.) With subsequent batches, I added only one cup of water (you can also use cider), but I think some apples are just more watery than others. The following day I processed the Jonagolds. They have a really greasy feel to the peel, especially if they are overripe; this waxy layer helps provide protection from pests. I baked a couple of the Jonagolds for dessert and they were rather flavorless, but the applesauce is quite tasty. Maybe something in the processing releases more flavor?

Last week I finished by canning the Enterprise and Gold Rush (the latter is also rather waxy). Even though the two varieties were mixed in the bag, I separated them for processing, just for fun. Since there was little delay between purchase and processing, I lost none to rot, ending up with five quarts of Enterprise, one quart of Gold Rush, and one quart of half-and-half.

A little surprise I noticed this year is the different colors of the applesauces. The Macintosh and Gold Rush are brown, while the Jonagold and Enterprise are pink. I don't add any sweeteners or spices when canning, as I like applesauce just as it is. One of my favorite snacks during the winter is a half-cup of applesauce sprinkled with about a half-ounce of raw pecans.

Canning applesauce takes a certain amount of effort. I have not calculated whether it saves money, but as with knitting, that is beside the point. I have to ignore the little voice in my head that tells me this is a waste of time; it is simply something I enjoy doing. Besides, what else would I do? Watch "Dancing with the Stars"?

Friday, November 28, 2014

The dearth of birds

I shouldn't say there is a dearth of birds, but most of those at the feeders are sparrows, sparrows, and more sparrows. And they eat almost everything: sunflower seeds, peanut splits, niger, even the suet which is designated by the label as for woodpeckers. It's like a feeding frenzy out there.

The only thing they leave alone are the whole peanuts, which the blue jays ravage. After years of corvid shortage caused by the West Nile virus, I am happy to see the jays. Sparrows, not so much.

The only winter birds I have seen so far are a few juncos. No titmice, no chickadees, no nothing. Did they decide not to come this far south? Maybe that means the winter will be mild. Or did they pass by and just keep on going? Is that what happened to the finches? What do they know that we don't?

Before I retired, I worked from home as much as I could get away with. I'd sit in the West Wing and rest my eyes by gazing out the windows. Consequently, I was more aware of what species were visiting. I no longer spend as much time in that room, but when I do, I rarely see something like this guy.

Even when the feeders are birdless, I enjoy the big bluestem behind them. It is especially pretty this year.

What's outside your windows these days?