Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winter sunset

winter sunset view (from the deck)
Winter is not such an active gardening time (at least for me, at this point).  I did sow some lettuce and kale seeds under the mini-hoop house and my rigged-up glass house yesterday, though, as an experiment.

My gardening companion energetically cleaned up ivy along the lower slope of the ravine this morning, hauled off accumulated trash (this was below our neighbor's yard), and spread more leaves.  He and Woody clambered up and down the slopes, getting plenty of exercise in the process.

But that sort of 'gardening' is a bit too hard on my hands to make it worth joining in, although the up and down exercise is welcome.

Tim's made tremendous progress in reclaiming the ravine from invasives and adding all sorts of appropriate native trees and shrubs.  It's really quite amazing. We have two lovely large oaks (seen above at sunset) that set the tone, with lots of other interesting trees, too.  It's a good thing to be nudging the ravine back to a native hardwood forest.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Another window cold frame

It's been mild enough this winter not to need extra protection for most hardy greens (I collected arugula, mustards, and a lovely large leek this evening for part of dinner). 

So I haven't thrown the plastic over the bamboo hoops that are set up, but I did set up another window cold frame, to sow lettuces and spinach in (as soon as I manage to get some seeds up here in the mountains!  I knew I should have put in my winter seed basket for sowing, as well as cataloging purposes).

I haven't managed to get by and take photos of my gardening friend's much more elegant versions, but they're in my mind.  My first attempt on window cold frames will be updated when I'm back home in the Piedmont.

I've opted for a low tech (tacks and jute twine) method for attaching the windows together (so they're easy to take down and move or store).  I wish I'd been able to find smaller windows for the ends, but the solid panels (with openings) are OK for temps down into the 20°s, I think. 

And I'll be sowing seeds this week, too, as soon as I can get back over to Sow True seeds.

simple window cold frame

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy holidays

We've traveled for many years over the holidays - this means Christmas and New Years in the western world, however they're observed.  We're not religious, but respectful of those traditions, and celebrate the places that we've been on Christmas Eve and Christmas over the last decades or so, and are glad to remember Christmas present, too.

The last two years, we've been home in the mountains.  Last year, our old boy, Mocha, had a great time in the snow.  

I thought he was still hale and hearty, but my gardening companion seemed to think ( and knew) that it might be his last winter, so we stayed home with him.  So we had fun, and he enjoyed the heck out of the snow in Asheville and up on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  But we lost him last March after a sudden, odd illness.
Woody in stream
Our new boy, Woody, is a lovely fellow. He had a great day today (being admired) at the Grove Park Inn and the Biltmore Estate.

Rescued from less than optimal circumstance, he's a people's dog: everyone wants to pet him and enjoy him, and it's a gift we're glad to share.  But he's also a rescue boy, and worried to be away from us, so we've stayed home with him this winter, too.  We didn't want to leave him with our nice kennel folks for the month or so that we'd normally be away.

And it's lovely mild weather this Christmas-time, unlike last year.  So walking (of course, with Woody) is quite nice.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Smothering English ivy

English ivy is a thug, basically.  It starts out as a hardy groundcover, low-maintenance, and evergreen.  But then it starts creeping up trees, becomes reproductive, and bam!

I remember English ivy from my graduate school days in the SF Bay Area (where it was rampant on campus).  As a traveler, I've seen it in its 'native' habitat in Tuscany (also looking quite weedy, probably after centuries of disturbance), climbing up every tree in the woodlands that we were driving by.

In the Eastern U.S, it's a total pest (and has been designated as such, officially, in the Pacific NW states of Washington and Oregon).

Hand-pulling is effective, but requires labor and time.  Herbicide-spraying (if you're willing to go that route) requires extra (commercial-grade) surfactants added to the herbicide, to overcome the waxy cuticle on the leaves.

But smothering with cardboard, mulch, and leaves is a longer-term solution, too.
ready to smother ivy
ready for leaves


My gardening companion, on a mission to recover the ravine forest below our mountain house, spent some time 'smothering' ivy and pulling it up, too, over the last couple of days.

Final result: leaves over cardboard



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Support regional seed companies

I've had fun learning about vegetable seeds, heirloom varieties, and their sources over the last 20 or so years that I've been a keen vegetable gardener.  My initial forays into tasty vegetables were supported by specialty catalogs, now morphed into LOTS of catalogs, both mainstream and specialty, some more interesting and useful than others.

I was delighted to discover a locally-based seed company (Sow True) a couple of years ago that distributed a variety of open-pollinated vegetables through local nurseries and markets in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

I've been interested in the history of growing vegetables, heirloom varieties, and the practices of growing vegetables for the home garden for a long time (even before I started growing my one.  My parents were of the generation enamoured of frozen vegetables and 'convenience' foods, marketed to as time-saving and modern, so my family didn't grow vegetables, needless to say.

My mom, growing up with the hardscrabble farm gardens of my grandma in Northern California, was way too familiar with the hard work involved with growing and harvesting for winter-time storage to find it appealing.  But I thought my grandma's gardens and berry patches were magical, and loved to look at the canned vegetables and fruits in the pantry of her final house.

seeds ready for packaging
I was delighted to be able to visit the warehouse and retail office of Sow True this afternoon, and talk with co-owner Peter Waskiewicz and marketing and communications director Cathryn Davis Zommer.

The operation is efficient, and  interesting in that people-time is the key for processing their seed. 

seeds soaking prior to germination testing
Using community seed swap allocations helps them package both locally-grown and regionally-grown seed, along with seed from national OP producers with a minimal investment expense in equipment. And, I was impressed by the seed storage area (kept at 50°F for optimal seed longevity) and the tidy seed packing area. 

But the bottom line is that I've enjoyed growing their seeds (and eating the results) and fully support their commitment to regionally-produced seeds.   And now that I know that they have an easy-to-order website and a retail store in Asheville, I know where to get seeds all year round, not just when they're available on display at local nurseries and groceries. Woo-hoo!  I just wish I'd snagged some spinach and 'Winter Density' lettuce while I was there.  But I now know where to get more....

Why not check if there are regional seed producers nearby?  Many have been bought up in recent decades by the big players (think agribusiness), but there's been a resurgence in 'start-up'  seed companies like Sow True nationwide as well.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter view

I love the silhouette of this tree -- a open-grown oak below the Asheville Visitor's Center.

With the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance, its canopy is magical.

Oak on a winter day


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Southern Hawthorn (Crataegus viridus 'Winter King')

Seeing some wonderful small trees laden with deep-red fruits in a parking lot planting had me returning for a photo today.  These trees were part of an exceptionally well-done planting outside an upscale grocery. Admirable!

What had me puzzled initially is what the heck these trees were, and why aren't they planted everywhere?  They're that striking.

They turned out to be most likely our native Southern or Green hawthorn, Crataegus viridis, and probably the cultivar 'Winter King' based on the size of the fruits.  I have no idea why they're not more widely planted -- there must be 20 included in this parking lot planting, and they're amazing right now. 

I've seen one or two planted elsewhere here in the mountains, but obviously not often enough to be reminded of them.  They're apparently not heat-tolerant (zone 4- zone 7a), so Piedmont 7b must be too hot (either during the day or at night).

Parking lot planting of Crataegus viridus 'Winter King'

Crataegus viridus 'Winter King'
This is a nice account of the virtues of  Crataegus viridis 'Winter King'.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Deer in town?

We're squarely in the middle of our small college town, not out in the suburban and exurban habitats that white-tailed deer have populated in recent decades. 

(And, through overpopulation, they've become downright pests, too, through much of the Eastern U.S).

deer grazing near the garden shed
But it's hunting season, and maybe these does were taking refuge. They enjoyed munching on winter annuals (chickweed and henbit), investigated my containers, checked out the main vegetable garden (largely empty this time of year, except for sorrel and leeks), and then were away.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Window box cold frame

a window-based cold frame
My results (on my first attempt) weren't pretty like my gardening friend's, but serviceable.

But I didn't need power tools.

I used nails and twine to secure the sides (so I can take it apart to store), and the top lies securely on the sides.

If I can find two taller end pieces (or the right-sized windows), it would look much nicer, but it seems functional.
windows and a electric screwdriver (not needed)

another low tech bamboo hoop house with plastic
components

I sowed some spinach and arugula seeds, and transplanted some lettuce.  We'll see.

I'm hoping that my second box (in a bed in the mountains) will look nicer, but that depends on matching the windows with the ends!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Surprisingly warm weather

It was downright balmy today, with the high about 60°F.  Remarkable for mid-December, but not unheard of.

The last two winters have been unusually cold and snowy; maybe this winter will be milder than usual. Weather extremes seem to be the pattern that climate change is bringing, but gardeners are used to extremes, if we're just sensible.

What we plant needs to make sense, for our climate and weather patterns, whatever they may be. 

I met with a fellow today from central Texas (my hometown is Austin).  They've had horrendous drought and heat over the last couple of seasons.  There's no point in planting hydrangeas or hostas there, to be sure, nor was there ever a reason to do so.

I was looking through a waterwise gardening book by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden this afternoon, and was reminded of all the great Texas and Southwestern plants that thrive in drought-conditions.  Whether most will survive in our droughty Southeastern climate depends on their tolerance for wet soil over winter (in mostly clay, amended subsoil gardening conditions).

Monday, December 12, 2011

Window cold frames

A gardening friend of mine made some wonderful cold frames from old wooden windows. 

They looked like jeweled terrariums, with paned windows providing four sides and a top. I didn't have my camera at the gathering where I saw them a couple of weeks ago (photos to come), but they were totally inspiring, and were filled with spinach and cilantro.

I've been on a window search since. 

After unfruitful excursions to a couple of Habitat 'Restores' in Seneca, SC and Asheville, NC and several antique stores, I finally found some matching windows (double-paned) at a Habitat store in Anderson, SC. 

Along with 4 end walls of the same height, I scored 6 windows, to make 2 window box cold frames.  Only $24 for all of them, too. Woo, hoo!

My (electric) screwdriver is charging now.  I'm hardly apt at anything like this, but my gardening friend's setup made it look possible, even with my minimal skills. 

All I need is some braces to fasten the windows together, and then hinges for the lid.  With a drill and a screwdriver (my only power tools), I should be good to go.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A warm fall

Now in early December, the shortest day of the year is just a couple of weeks away.  Our shortest day still has almost 10 hrs of daylight (we're under 10 hours for just a couple of weeks), so it's not that dark.

But what's been remarkable this fall is how mild it's been.  We've had a few light frosts, a couple of heavy frosts, but not a killing freeze even yet.  This mild fall has been experienced throughout the Eastern U.S., even as the midwest has had early cold, and in some cases, unusual snows.

Today, balmy humid air was pushed out by a cold front (with accompanying rain). We're approaching normal rainfall for the year, but it's been unevenly distributed, so we've had much longer periods without rain (August and September) than normal, with warmer temperatures, too.

It makes me wonder about the conventional rubric of the 'first frost date' as a date on the gardening calendar -- it's all about how cold, how sustained, and what soil temperatures are, not just about being 32°F as an air temperature.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Trees planted (with volunteer help)

 Planting day for the Clemson Child Development Center was last Saturday. 

Here were just a few images from that day.  (I was busy planting and organizing and didn't have a lot of free photo time!).  The good news was that we had very nice large trees;  the challenge was that we needed equipment to plant them.  Thanks to a delightful volunteer from the Clemson United Methodist Church, we had that equipment, and he knew how to use it.

Holes ready for trees
The first tree to be planted
Teamwork made the difference
One of the planted areas
It was a totally rewarding experience.  And we'll be mulching the planted beds in the weeks to come, and I'm looking forward to seeing how these trees do!  It's hard to transplant larger trees, but they make a instant difference in the landscape.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tree planting

Clemson horticulturist Tim Johnson 'augering' a planting site
I became involved in a tree planting project somewhat by accident, but it's turned out to be quite rewarding. I was asked by a friend (who shares local food interests) if I could suggest some shade trees for the Clemson Child Development Center (which shares a building with the Clemson ARTS Center, and the Clemson African-American Museum).  Sure, I said.

The building ( I think) was the former black elementary school many years ago, re-purposed later for K-1 (?) as the Morrison Annex (to Morrison Elementary School), now replaced by Clemson Elementary School.  In any case, the building has been there for a long time.

Perimeter trees were planted at the time it was last renovated, but there were still no trees surrounding the playgrounds for the CCDC.

I sketched out some ideas, money for trees was raised, and somehow, we're going to plant 6 oaks, 5 dogwoods, 5 oakleaf hydrangeas, and 5 blueberries on Saturday and creating mulched beds around them.   Woo-hoo!  Somehow, I think, the spark was provided to make this happen. Synergy.

I ended up spending a lot more time that I'd imagined talking with folks, arranging trees and the augering of holes (thanks to the City of Clemson's horticulturist), suggesting mulch, etc.-- all relatively easy, really.

Augered holes for an oak, a couple of dogwoods, and two oakleaf hydrangeas

It's definitely reminded me how simple actions can make a difference.
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