Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A mountain laurel fence

Mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) have wonderfully sculpted branches.  They make wonderful fences, gates, hand-railings, and decorative additions to water features.  My colleague Ginny is an expert at creating delightfully-crafted garden elements out of mountain laurel's gnarled branches.

This porch railing, at Elk Knob Farm (on last weekend's Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project's Family Farm Tour), was a wonderful example of how lovely branches are, and how artfully they can be incorporated.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

The first home-grown tomatoes

I've harvested three nice-looking Cherokee Purple tomatoes this season so far, two yesterday and one today - the first large tomatoes of the season. 

Cherokee Purple tomatoes
The tomato plants in the raised beds are amazingly robust (hmm, it must be that good purchased compost) and the chard just keeps coming.  The beans, eggplants, squash, and tomatillo plants are all doing well, too.

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Family Farm Tour (ASAP)

The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project's Family Farm Tour in Western North Carolina included a diverse mix of small local farms in the counties surrounding Asheville.  The farms range from CSA and market garden producers such as Flying Cloud Farm, small homestead farms like Elk Knob and Sunswept Farm Conservancy, and dairy goat operations (Round Mountain Creamery), which were among the farms that we visited over the weekend (there were 26 on the tour).

Growing fall vegetables for transplant at Flying Cloud Farm in Fairview, North Carolina
These folks are willing to invite us 'farm tourists' to see what they're doing and ask (sometimes) naive questions about raising animals, processing milk, and packing vegetables (but isn't that the point?)
Organic cherries at Elk Knob Farm
Flying Cloud Farm produce packing shed (note washing sinks and cooler)
Produce cart at Flying Cloud Farm

The tour helps interested consumers understand a bit better about local small farms, and encourages us to support them at local farmer's markets and at the farm.

We finished the tour with a fresh awareness of the day-to-day work that it takes to raise livestock and grow fruits and vegetables.

I have an appreciation of the produce side of things, but actually thinking about what's required in a small-scale dairy goat operation to keep sanitation standards required by USDA for commercial operations -- it's definitely more involved.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Max Patch Bald

On the annual Family Farm Tour this afternoon organized by the Applachian Sustainable Agriculture project,  we were close to Max Patch Bald, a site we hadn't visited before.

A historical bald (an open grassy area within an otherwise forested landscape), Max Patch is under the management of the U.S. Forest Service, with mowing and burning used to maintain the landscape. 

It's largely a created meadow of European grasses and forbs, reflecting its pasture past.

The views are extraordinary.  It's a magical landscape.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010


The fireflies were flashing this evening.  First, we saw them at ground level, and then as dusk descended, another species (presumably) started flashing higher up in the canopy. 

It reminded us of Maryland, where we spent many pleasant (and full of research work) summers years ago at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center on the Chesapeake Bay in Edgewater.

We were fortunate enough to stay in the house of artists for many of those years. Gifted portrait painters, they spent the summer in Provincetown, Massachusetts painting landscapes.  So we were able to rent their house near the research station for the summer, and enjoyed the fireflies, rural atmosphere, and access to DC and all of its cultural offerings, a respite from the small-town Southeast Georgia college town where we lived at the time.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vegetable gardens

 We have a front-yard vegetable garden here in the mountains, carved out of former driveway (it was in full sun, so perfect for raised beds).

But I've been admiring a garden that is not exactly a front yard, but lawn space converted to vegetables.

What's not to like about that?

This garden is on the property of Grace Presbyterian Church on Merrimon Avenue in Asheville, North Carolina. It appeared for the first time this winter, with hardy vegetables such as kale and broccoli.

Now it's full of tomatoes, squash, and chard.

How nice is that!

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Gardens and images

Time away and then an earlier-than-expected family visit have rearranged my routine over the last few days. But it was a good time, and the raised bed gardens are growing vigorously without my attention.

I'm hopeful of LOTS of tomatoes;  there are many large green fruits, so I'm anticipating a good harvest this summer, but you never know.

Beets and swiss chard continue to be stand-outs and the squash is flowering and the beans are growing rapidly.  I'm looking forward to fall beets;  the young spring beets and their greens have been so delicious, I can't believe that I haven't figured out how to grow them successfully before. (Basically, it's deep fluffy soil in the raised beds and plenty of water and nutrients...not the usual 'tough love' gardening approach that is my usual mode.)

Thankfully, afternoon and evening thunderstorms have brought ample rain, so with added water for seedlings and greens, it has been a good spring (now summer).

We're looking forward to more hiking time in the mountains, too.

This pastel by Carl Peverall, from a recent Toe River Studio tour, provides a wonderfully evocative image of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Home in the Piedmont

A trip down the 'hill' (actually the Blue Ridge Escarpment) to celebrate an evolving garden (the Cherokee Worldview Garden) at the botanical garden where I work had a variety of extra pleasures.

First was seeing some of my friends, but it was also an opportunity to check on our garden here, and do a bit of tending.

Our landscape in the mountains is great, and we're so fortunate to have both, but it doesn't present the nice connection with the earth that the physical activity of gardening requires. (Plucking a stray nutsedge from a raised bed isn't much of an effort).

I love the satisfying feel of pulling up crabgrass rosettes (at least in moist soil) and tidying beds and hanging up garlic to dry. And in the process, I can muse about what to plant for a fall garden.

I harvested the last of the garlic beds, and amazingly, I think I'll have enough garlic to last through mid-spring (uh, and more than break even on my purchase of garlic to plant, too!)

The blueberries are ripening, with lots more to come, and there are LOTS of blackberries in the thicket that's resulted in the back from a transplanted cultivar!

But the native azalea next to the garage is a standout this year (I'm actually not sure which species it is; I need to check with my gardening companion who's still up in the mountains). It suffered through the drought years, but it's glorious right now.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

A fern-eating rabbit

My gardening companion caught a shot of a rabbit eating a fern recently.

This is a quite unusual sighting; rabbits would normally eat more tender shoots.

But, this one was nibbling vigorously on a fern frond!

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A morning on the Blue Ridge parkway

A wonderful aspect of being in the NC mountains is the proximity to the Southern Appalachians.

They're an ancient mountain range, noted for biodiversity of many species. A special aspect is the Blue Ridge Parkway, part of our National Park System, a long road that stretches from Shenondoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.

An early morning walk had us ascending from Asheville (where the afternoon high would be close to ninety) to a foggy Craggy Gardens, well-known for the June Catawba rhododendron display.

Surprisingly, it was cool and foggy. Amazing. The temperature was close to 60° F.

This small bumblebee was still sleeping in a Catawba rhododenron flower. Check out the poricidal anthers characteristic of plants in the Ericaceae (the Heath or Blueberry family) -- just click on the photo for a closer look.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Woo, hoo! After record-breaking heat (yuck, over 90°F in the mountains), a thunderstorm dropped 3/4 of an inch of rain in a late afternoon downburst.

I've been watering my raised beds full of vegetables, but a good soaking is always welcome. I planted more winter and tromboncino squash seeds this afternoon.

My idea is that the vines can ramble down the slope towards the ravine, and maybe, if the woodchucks are focused elsewhere (I haven't seen any sign of them so far), I might have some nice winter squashes, as well as fresh tromboncinos.

A delicious young basil pesto accompanied the fresh vegetables from the garden with orecchiette pasta in this evening's dinner. Yum.

I'll be 'heading down the hill' on Friday to spend a couple of days in the Piedmont (mainly to attend a work function, but also to check on the garden). I'm hoping that there's been a thunderstorm or two there, too. There isn't much that needs watering frequently (I did away with the waterhog containers), but there are a couple of herb containers that would benefit from some weekly rainfall.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Shades of green

It's been rewarding to enjoy the changes in the sedum bed in front of our small house in the mountains over the last year.

The delightful sequence of flowers has been an unforeseen addition to the colors and textures of their foliage, much of which is evergreen, too.

The jewel-like foliage colors contrasting with flowers of different colors and heights are quite remarkable.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Growing beets

I've been delighted to have robust-looking beets growing in my raised beds in the mountains.  I definitely haven't been successful growing beets before. 

They need neutral soil, a deep bed for the roots to develop, and plenty of moisture, not always easy to provide in the acidic soils of the Piedmont, where I've been growing most of our vegetables.

So, I'm happy to have harvested a few 'first' beets, two 'regular' and one golden.

They were delicious!

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Farmer's markets

Part of the fun of visiting local farmer's markets is the sense of community.

Buying a bunch of turnips or a loaf of bread from a wood-fired oven or home-grown native plants means a direct connection from producer to consumer.

It's a pleasant feeling.

I grow quite a few of our own vegetables, to be sure, but to buy eggs from the farmer who talks about her hens that have been foraging on clover is a lovely thing.

Some folks think it's a bit rarified (even elitist) to buy relatively well-priced veggies and other products, when many people don't have access to fresh vegetables of any sort in 'urban deserts.'

Well, that's true. But, given the opportunity, isn't it a good thing to support local small farmers and producers of bread, cheese, and other goods?

It's an exceptional experience to be able to buy farm-raised trout from the local producer or SC scallops directly from someone who has connections from the coast near Georgetown, SC or black drum from the NC coast.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Goldfinches and feeders

An enjoyable part of feeding birds is watching them, of course. And we've been having a lot of fun watching the American goldfinches visiting the thistle feeder here in the mountains.

The activity is huge on the covered platform feeder; not only do we see the usual cardinals, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, and nuthatches, but also the Eastern towhees, who apparently think the platform isn't that different than the ground.

But the goldfinches are striking and always nice to see.

This evening there were 3 of them visiting the feeder shortly before dusk.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Swiss chard

The Swiss chard is doing great -- I harvested another large bunch this evening along with a good-sized handful of arugula.

The front raised beds are looking good, too; I've packed them with vegetables and herbs, so will need to be attentive to extra nutrient additions, in spite of their excellent soil (aka compost).

The various beans are growing well, and I'm going to plant some Asian winged beans (soaking now) on another trellis (hmm, I need to find room for it) tomorrow.

Amazingly, a flat of spinach seedlings is looking quite nice. I'll have to find a shady place to put it, since some hot weather is on the way.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I harvested the first tomato of the summer today.

Admittedly, it was small (a Sweet Million) from the earliest planted tomatoes in the large raised bed here in the mountains. But all of the tomatoes are growing vigorously, and I'm training them into their cages, supports, or spirals!

More exciting, to me, is that I've got beets developing plump roots (!) That vegetable compost with composted cow manure must be good stuff. I've not had any luck with beets before, so I'm thrilled. Not to mention how robust the chard is looking (and it's quite delicious, too).

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Bottlebrush buckeye and swallowtails

The large bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica) in the front of our house is in full flower.

It's glorious for a couple of weeks in mid-June each year. It keeps getting bigger, but we selectively prune the suckers to keep it from over-running the kalmias and rhododendrons nearby.

This picture doesn't do it justice at all, taken quickly before heading off, but shows how large the flowers can be.

Swallowtails are enjoying visiting the flowers; pipevines and this black swallowtail (I think) are abundant.

Note: Actually, it's a pipevine swallowtail (Thanks, Randy) - we have lots flying around right now, thanks to our huge pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla)!

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Harvesting garlic

Garlic is ready when roughly half of the leaves are brown (more if soft-neck and less if hard-neck, if I'm remembering right).

In practice, if the stalks are tipping over, it seems like it should be time to harvest.

I've now pulled two beds, with two more to come. Over 75 heads of garlic are now drying in my garden shed.

(Hmm, I might actually see a return on my investment in buying organic garlic to plant, from Hood River Garlic, in Oregon).

Some heads I've harvested were downright huge, compared to previous years. Abundant rain is surely a factor, although variety is important, too.

We had fresh garlic and onions with mushrooms and garlic scapes as our dinner vegetable this evening. Yum.

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Garlic and onions

Coming back down from the mountains (unexpectedly, for house painting purposes), we returned to heat and humidity. It was a decided difference.  But it's been rainy here, thankfully;  the rain gauge showed 3 inches in the last week and half!  So everything from containers to shrubs are looking good. It's nice to have an opportunity to check the garden-- that was our first order of business.  It's a good thing to have had plenty of rain!

One exception were the short-day onions, whose tops seemed to have largely melted away because of some sort of fungus;  I harvested all of the bulbs, though, which although small, hopefully will be tasty.

The garlic, surprisingly (or maybe not), had browned up and is largely ready to harvest.

I cut the scapes of the single bed of hard-neck garlic before harvesting; they're probably too fibrous to be good, but we'll see. 

The young leeks are doing OK, but also are suffering from too much rain, seemingly somewhat mildew-stressed.  I'll either hill them up, or harvest them as 'baby leeks'!

The garlic harvest looks good;  here are the results from two of my beds, ready for bundling up to dry tomorrow.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Slugs, oh my!

I haven't experienced slug herbivory before, a bane of rainy climate gardeners. In the Piedmont, even in normal rainfall years, I don't think I've seen any slugs, much less experienced any damage to vegetables.

But, as the Ronde de Nice (Eight-Ball) and Zucchini 'Romanesco' squash seedlings started to disappear overnight, hmm, with curiously chewed edges left on the remnants, I started to think about slugs. The slime and a culprit caught in the act confirmed my suspicions.

Hmm, they love to eat seedlings, apparently.

I AM a wildlife gardener, but it's hard to warm up to slugs, and I started searching for organic controls. Beer in dishes was one possibility (but my gardening companion didn't want to waste his craft brews, and it's apparently not all that effective); salt, diatomaceous earth, and coffee grounds are other potential treatments. But the most promising seems to be iron phosphate laced with some sort of irresistable bait (for slugs). They ingest the iron, and succumb to iron overload. I can live with that.

Sold under brand names such as Sluggo and Escar-go, I ended up buying a similar product from a local garden center.

I sprinkled the granules liberally around the squash seedlings early this evening (slugs forage in late evening and at night). We'll see.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A red-bellied woodpecker (actually a Northern Flicker!)

Thanks to Randy, I know the woodpecker we watched yesterday morning (and thought was a female Red-Bellied Woodpecker), was actually a Northern Flicker.  I don't think we'd seen one before.

It caught our attention, foraging in the old stump below the porch, rhythmically working the decaying wood, snagging insects and their larvae in the process.

(In looking up info about the Northern Flicker, they forage largely on the ground, for ants -- cool!)

It had seemed unusual to see a woodpecker foraging on a stump, but maybe I haven't had one to observe before. We're still waiting for woodpeckers to discover the new suet feeder, an elaborate cedar log with holes to stuff with suet. The titmice have found it, though, and they're happy for the extra energy, apparently.

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