Sunday, November 30, 2008


We're usually far away from our spread-out family members at holidays, and it's been so for many years. It's generated a simple tradition of putting out a few Christmas decorations after Thanksgiving to enjoy the week or so before leaving for winter break travels.

The two small stockings were in cards my grandparents sent many years ago, with small cash gifts. The reindeer set came from my Mom, as did the angel candle-holder.

We're looking forward to travels to come.

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A blue jay's diet

I often catch a glimpse of a blue jay foraging in the main vegetable garden out the kitchen window or mudroom door window. I've always assumed that seeds or insects were the food of choice in the vegetable garden, but seeing a jay again this morning had me thinking.

I knew blue jays have a broad diet -- The Birders Handbook lists "insects, other invertebrates, small vertebrates, carrion, bird eggs, nestlings, but mostly acorns, fruit, nuts, seeds."

But, since it's a cold rainy day (we're thankful for the rain), and we've had temperatures below freezing for a number of nights already, any insects still around are in very sheltered spots.

So, as I wondered out loud about what the blue jay was eating, my gardening companion said, "earthworms?" and I smartly replied, "they don't eat earthworms" ...

A minute later the blue jay returned, nabbed an earthworm about where the arrow points, much to the glee of my gardening companion (whose knowledge of bird foraging habits is not deep). Hmm, I guess earthworms ARE invertebrates, after all.

Labels: ,

Friday, November 28, 2008

'Recycling' fall leaves

The leaves are almost all down now, and many of our neighbors have raked (or blown) much of them to the edge of the street, for the City's leaf vacuum truck to collect.

My gardening companion already called to put dibs on one truckful (most of the rest are delivered to the Garden, where they're put to good use, too).

Oak, hickory, maple, dogwood, and birch leaves are a wonderful mulch and soil builder and we always wonder why people don't keep them in their yards! Needless to say, ours aren't going to the street; they replenish the soil beneath the trees that produced them.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 27, 2008


One of our family traditions is a morning 'hike' on Thanksgiving. Sometimes this is a long hike, in our nearby mountains; sometimes, it's closer.

A favorite place is the Clemson University Experimental Forest, created by a federal program during the Great Depression to purchase farming land worn-out from the demands of cotton and corn on hilly slopes.

It's now an excellent forest, a mix of ~ 75 year-old oak-hickory forests, planted pines, and lots in between, thanks to succession and forestry rotations.

The area around Lake Issaqueena is especially nice, as it's an unofficial natural area - a great place for a morning walk.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Harvest time and home

Our American Thanksgiving is one of few iconic American holidays. It means family, thanks, gratefulness, harvest time, and home. We celebrate the sharing of the first Thanksgiving, native American turkeys, cranberries, corn, and pumpkin.

homemade bread and persimmons
And whether we're with a large group of family and friends, or celebrate in a simple way, it's definitely time to be thankful for our blessings and the harvest that we share.

Labels: , , ,

Mocha and leaves

The waning colors of fall seem to be yellow and tan. They made a perfect complement to Mocha's morning walk.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Winter greens

I harvested purple mustard, arugula, spinach, and turnip greens today. It's almost (our) Thanksgiving --Thursday, Nov. 27 this year.

Even though we've had frosts, in the protected walls of the vegetable garden near our visitor center, the frost damage hasn't been significant.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Preserved leaves

It's always fun to preserve leaves, whether by pressing, laminating, or soaking in glycerin. I just fished out the leaves I'd had soaking. Their colors are muted, but still lovely.

Labels: ,

Why shouldn't more parking lots look like this?

I'm weary of looking at uninteresting planting in parking lots (and elsewhere) that do nothing for the natural world. Why not include a diversity of shrubs and trees? Why not include grasses and perennials? Why not include rain gardens that help filter runoff and provide mini-wetlands that might support a few dragonflies?

I've bumbled across a few good examples lately. The photos above, of parking lot for a Portland bakery/coffee house were nice.

And the urban parking near UNC Asheville and the Botanical Garden of Asheville, planted in natives, gets my kudos for providing a sense of place.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The first freeze

Our first big frost in our garden occurred over the weekend. We came home to collapsed nasturtiums and blackened basil. Last night, it dipped below the freezing mark; the parsley was frozen and the large redbor kale that had survived from early last winter was frosty early and drooping late in the evening, a sure sign of frost damage.

Late this afternoon, in chilly temperatures, I hurriedly cut purple mustard, red cut-leaf mustard, lettuce, and arugula in the (ornamental and demonstration) vegetable garden next to the visitor center; I hated to think about the tenderer greens going to waste in tonight's potential harder freeze, since I'm unsure about how much the brick walls might hold heat.

I've been giving the excess harvest to my gardening companion for some of the custodial staff in his building -- mustard and turnip greens, and arugula (great as a cooked green). There's not enough to take to our local food bank (I need some gleaners to harvest more, I guess), but at least some of what's being grown now is being eaten--greens are wonderful food and are delicious.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Community gardens

I'm always interested in community vegetable gardens. They come in all sorts - places with individual plots as well as communal gardens, where everyone pitches in.

This garden, in the Montford area of Asheville, NC, falls in the second category. I was encouraged on a late fall visit. All sorts of greens were growing in an unheated hoophouse, as well as under row covers, and garlic and onions have been planted.

And cover crops of legumes and grains were flourishing on overwintering rows.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Maybe the last fall color?

Everyone is commenting on how beautiful our fall colors have been this year. We normally have very nice color, but this year is DEFINITELY beyond the usual.

The reds are vibrant, the golden colors are exceptional -- oh, dear, I've become really boring on this topic. But, the leaves are dropping fast now.

Today was one of four local photography days, organized by The Arts Center, and sponsored by the City of Clemson, to reflect what happens in our Upstate SC college town.

I took a few photos, on campus and in our own garden; the overcast skies made the colors.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Growing your own veg

I went to a Upstate Locavore meeting this evening -- the topic was a spring event to encourage people to try growing some of their own vegetables. What's encouraging to me is that many of the folks interested in this are quite new to vegetable and herb gardening (and maybe gardening in general) and, in addition, there's a thread of food security running through the conversation.

I'm all for encouraging interest and supporting individual efforts. The RHS gardens in the UK have an expansive program called 'Growing your own veg' accompanied by all sorts of useful information for beginning gardeners.

A developing New Victory Garden movement includes Kitchen Garden International's Eat The View campaign and this garden planted as part of the Slow Food convention in San Francisco, CA this fall; these represent just a 'tip' of the explosion of interest in growing food, promoting local food, and supporting local farmers and sustainable agriculture.

And whether we're able to grow some of our own food, can purchase locally, or donate some of the excess of what we grow, why not add more vegetables and fruits to our home landscapes, if we have the space?

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cool geology

I'm afraid I never thought much about rocks and minerals before we had a Geology Museum as part of the Garden. I've had a vague sense of how rocks break down, to eventually create soil, etc. and equally vague notions of gneiss, metamorphic rock, igneous rock, quartz, feldspar, and the millions of years that it takes to create these rocks.

And the layers of rock that are formed -- I'm definitely looking at them with new interest.

But erosion happens in ecological time, and I've been fascinated with the deep eroded cut banks in our main Garden stream. It's an old stream, based on the meanders, based on what my friend and colleague Chris told us today in a Geology walk.

We explored an exceptionally interesting area, carved by water, and revealing an interesting history of layers of rock, and sediment and quartz sand washed down.

It's not on the 'beaten track' at all, but well worth finding.

Labels: , ,

Another fall morning

It's been such an amazing fall color year; I just keep taking more photos. This dogwood is glorious now, with the bright gold of the hickory behind it.

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ready for winter (light)

I'm so glad that we're finally beginning to think about winter vegetable gardening here in the Southern U.S. I just listened to a podcast this morning from BBC Gardens Illustrated, where Sarah Raven talked about how in the U.K., folks are growing more crops through the winter.

Uh, we get a LOT more light in the winter that British gardeners do -- why not take advantage of it? I put together a new cold frame today (it's a good thing I don't earn my living as a carpenter), but I'm thinking about coaxing some of the more tender winter greens through colder times.

I'm delighted that my English (garden) peas are flowering profusely now. I may actually be able to harvest some English peas this fall (I've already harvested about 10 peas -- whoopee!)

Labels: , ,

A global perspective

My blog isn't about politics or economics, it's about my garden, and natural gardening, and things I observe and feel passionately about. But I also like to reflect on what's important to me and what I'm thinking about. We live in a global community, without a doubt.

My gardening companion and I love exploring the natural world wherever we're able to visit, and there are many wonderful places on our planet. We've been fortunate to visit remarkable places over the decades that we've been able to travel.

So we felt a distinct affinity to an essay by Pico Iyer published in this week's Time magazine. Iyer is a wonderful (travel) writer, as is Paul Theroux, but his graceful reflection on what it means for America to turn outward, rather than inward, with our election of a new president, is something that we can celebrate.

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cricket songs

The last of the field crickets are singing now, until frost stills them. I don't know which species they are -- I know we have several fall crickets, but I'm far away from my 'area of expertise'!

Here's a link to a fall field cricket song from the University of Florida. The magic of digital.

I love the seasonal waxing and waning of the nocturnal symphony of insect songs (and frogs, and birds, too). The symphony is at its peak in summer.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Balmy November days

View through the front gate
It's not 'normally' so warm in early November (in the mid-70° F range); we often have what we call an Indian summer in September, and sometimes into October, but in a warming climate, I guess temperatures are more variable than ever (at least some models predict this!)
Flowering dogwood

But, fall color this year is absolutely amazing -- it's late, but the vivid yellows, reds, and oranges have clear notes, and the peak (this week) is more vibrant than I've ever seen it here before (we've lived here almost 15 years).

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A early morning walk

The University's Fall break (timed with the November election) gave us a bit more time to enjoy some balmy November weather.

Along the dikes, separating Lake Hartwell from campus, we didn't see anyone else until late in our walk. But we admired a cormorant diving, several great blue herons, a green heron, and gulls recently arrived from the coast.

The camera caught a striking reflection of fall color surrounding the sand spit, which we hadn't noticed, being focused on the herons, but was a nice surprise.

I've been wishing I had a chipmunk photo -- this one gave me a perfect opportunity, foraging for seeds along the dike's rip-rip banks.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vibrant fall colors

The Eastern U.S. is fortunate to have deciduous temperate forests that display beautiful fall colors. From maples, hickories, oaks, sweetgums, black gums, sourwood, and poplars, with a myriad of other species, our deciduous trees put on a spectacular fall show.

An early morning walk found plenty to admire.

Sourwood in the Schoenike Arboretum

Fall color in Heritage Garden picnic area

Labels: ,

A deepening drought

My gardening companion wanted to walk along the lakeshore yesterday morning; I found it bittersweet.

Our nearby lake (Lake Hartwell) is SO low that it's looking entirely different that we've ever seen it. The eroded sandy edges below the rocky clay now gives way to silt and then to water.

We watched a Great Blue Heron enjoying a fish, with a Belted Kingfisher nearby.

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Finally, some planted garlic

I cleaned up beds in the main vegetable garden and the satellite garden today. It was nice to be back in the garden, after too much time focused on other things. I fussed (to myself) about being late to do these things, but whatever. All things in their time.

After a Sunday morning walk with my gardening companion (and my gardening assistant - aka my husband and dog), I set to work pulling up spent tomatoes, peppers, and lagenaria squash, and started amending beds for planting.

I planted this bed with Inchelium Red and Early Italian, with multiplier potato onions in a small patch towards the thyme.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Seedsaving and garlic varieties

I was already familiar with some of the vendors at the Carolina Farm Stewardship's Sustainable Ag conference, but have had fun discovering new sources, and putting faces to some of the familiar names.

It was fun to meet some of the folks from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (I've received their catalogs and used some of their seeds for years).

They had a wonderful display of garlic varieties, along with some winter squash. I couldn't help it; I bought more seeds, garlic, and some multiplier potato onions. I want to run home and start planting. (And it's a beautiful day, too, much too nice to spend in the Civic Center...) But....

Another regular display promotes seed exchange between member seed savers. There were lots of jars of different kinds of interesting seeds, with seed envelopes to take small quantities to try in your farm or garden.

Labels: , ,