Monday, February 28, 2011


Camellias are a wonderful spirit-boosting contribution to Southern winter gardens. They don't 'work for a living' - the C. japonica cultivars are far from their native roots, producing flowers that are lovely, but not ecologically functional.

Professor Sargent camellia
But, the old camellias around our house are now in full flower, and the Professor Sargent in front is fabulous.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Row covers in a community garden

Beds in the Pearson Community Garden
There's an interesting community garden in our neighborhood in the mountains.  It's the Pearson Community Garden, supported by the Bountiful Cities Project, a local non-profit organization.

I've posted photos from this garden before; it's been fascinating to see what they're doing and how the garden changes.  I volunteered several times last summer on their regular Wednesday workday, and enjoyed talking with the much younger fellow volunteers, who were keen about learning how to grow vegetables.

But this year, I'm totally impressed (and encouraged) by the success that they've had with simple row covers in protecting winter greens. 

This was a hard winter for us in the Carolinas (in the Southeastern U.S.)  We had unusually COLD temperatures (for example, in Asheville, NC, lows were in the teens (F°) for weeks on end, and there was MUCH more snow than usual.)

Check out these greens! 

These were protected by simple hoops covered with plastic over the winter.  They're growing directly in soil.  Wow.

Pearson Garden rows and hoop house


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Saturday, February 26, 2011

More peas and greens

It was a beautiful sunny (and warm) day in the mountains. 

A quick trip to the local farmer's supply yielded 5 bags each of mushroom compost and composted cow manure.  The commercial compost in the raised beds has settled and shrunk since their initial filling last year, so needs more 'soil' additions and a nutrient boost before spring planting.

The mid-summer beds were lush, so plenty of nutrients were taken up and harvested.

raised beds in late July 2010
The mushroom compost was the best I've seen - it looked like the 'real thing' - light, fluffy. amended with sand, and without the sticks and debris of other bags I've purchased labeled 'mushroom compost.'  The cow manure was also a bit close to the real thing, being a bit aromatic of cow manure!

After topping off the beds and turning over the soil a bit, I hopefully sowed a round of sugar snap peas and snow peas in one of the front beds, along with broccoli raab, mustard greens, and spinach.  I tucked in some broccoli, parsley and red cabbage transplants from one of the big box stores and am crossing my fingers for a moderate late winter and early spring.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cooler weather and future harvests

I'm still waiting for peas to emerge.  It's been exceptionally warm for over a week, but soil temperatures are quite buffered (and slow to change), even in richly amended (read dark in color) garden beds.

The kale and radish seedlings in the cold frame have popped up, however, and I'm fussing about keeping my warm-season seeds hydrated if we're up in the mountains over the weekend.

But I'm hopeful about harvests in the future.

Here's a image from a past post. I'm looking forward to warm season vegetables!

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Plant for sustainability

I talked about the importance of plants and planting today at a CU Environmental Teach-in -- it was a modified version of a program that I often do, and I think about as fundamental.  It's about gardening as stewardship, planting more natives, restoring the ecology of your 'yard', neighborhoods, campus, and community.

Yes, we need to increase energy efficiency, promote green jobs, and innovate.

But in a fundamental sense, we also need to get back to our roots:  connecting with nature and the plants that sustain us in a myriad of ways, from food to wildlife habitat.  Native plant gardening IS stewardship. Without the ecosystem services that natural and restored habitats provide (not to mention sustainable food-growing practices), all the energy efficiency in the world isn't going to sustain human life on our planet.  It's that simple.

Here's a link to a pdf version of the presentation, if you'd like to look at it (it's a relatively large file, so patience is required!) and a link to the native plant list for the presentation.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Year-round vegetable gardening

In the Southeastern U.S, we have ample sunshine (over 10 hours a day, except for about a week and half around the winter solstice) for growing vegetables year-round. 

In 'normal' winters, we can grow kale and collards that sail through normal freezes, as well as garlic and onions.

In exceptionally cold winters (like the last couple of years), unprotected hardy greens have suffered significant frost damage.  But even this year, mustards have re-emerged looking pretty leafy in protected walled gardens like the kitchen garden next to the visitor center at the Garden where I work.

I've been delighted with my winter greens experiment in the unheated hoophouse at the Garden --totally amazing.  I'm planning to sow a short season sequence of greens in the pots and bags of soil mix, as well as chard and beets, just to see what happens.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chives, seeding, and other vegetable gardening activities

It's so heartening to see buds swelling on the blueberries, oaks, and buckeyes.  Not to mention the spiky clumps of chives.  I was thrilled to see an asparagus tip poking up in the small asparagus bed, and happily mulched that bed and my onion & garlic beds with partially broken-down straw (it had served as a Mocha barrier from compost through the winter).

Additional tomato and pepper seeds came on Saturday, so I went ahead and sowed an assortment in trays on a germination mat.  I'm following Renee's Garden methods this year, and will transplant the small seedlings to larger pots as needed (rather than allocating valuable germination space to more pots!)

I dug up a new bed for potatoes, cut them up for sprouting, and am ready with more straw (I'm planning to cover them with straw this year, rather than soil).

I hopefully sowed a few more vegetable seeds in pots (chard on the germination mat, spinach and mustard spinach in containers) and called it a good day in the garden.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Pollen, spring, and other musings

Perhaps it's been an occupational hazard that I'm allergic in mid-life to all kinds of pollen.

Tree pollens (birch, winged elm, alder, and juniper) are currently at moderate to high levels with the unseasonably high temperatures in the Southeastern U.S.  Allergy shots have helped, to be sure, but my eyes still are itchy at the moment!


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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wild collection of native woodland wildflowers

This was on my radar, but I hadn't actually realized that this was a cottage industry in the Southern Appalachians.  Not a good thing.

A late afternoon trip to my local big-box store (for snow pea and sugar snap pea seeds) had me noticing a rack of woodland wildflowers packaged in small peat-filled packets.

Hmm, what were these, I thought?  They're cheap ($2.48); they represent a laundry list of nice woodland wildflowers, but where have they come from?

I bought a few as an experiment.  They're very small plants (it's hard to imagine wild collection, actually), but they're labelled as nursery-grown (a usual fogging-term for wild-collected, rather than nursery-propagated).

And the source - a company called Botanical Wonders in Dobson, NC - doesn't have a website (hmm) -- quite unusual in a digital age.  And there are web links to less than upstanding activities, too.

The packages that I've looked at so far are quite interesting.  The VA bluebells (Mertensia virginica) 'plant' is an incredibly small tap 'root' with some small leaves emerging.  Hmm.  The Silene virginica is a small crown of roots with a few shoots emerging.  (That's more promising as something that might have been propagated).  But who knows.

I'm going to do more investigation and make a fuss with the big-box retailer if I can gather more evidence.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Availability of native plants

It's a bit frustrating to hand out lists of good plants to grow in programs, knowing that it'll be hard to find them to purchase.

You've really got to be ready to transplant volunteers or grow them yourself from seed or cuttings or visit native plant society sales and specialty nurseries (or do online ordering).

We have lots of great plants in the Eastern U.S. that aren't readily available for various reasons.

They take a long time to grow to flowering size (lots of woodland wildflowers); they have deep roots quickly, so aren't easily held in containers (many canopy trees); they're hard to propagate (seed germination is complex in native species), etc.

But, they're all well worth the effort.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Spring-like weather

With a week ahead of lovely spring-like days, it's hard not to be enthusiastic about gardening of all sorts.

We certainly have cold days ahead, and frost, too, but what a gift to have a week of great weather, after a winter full of cold and snow (at least by our standards in the Southestern US).

There are cool-season greens to sow (racing against the bolting stimulated by longer days) and native trees, shrubs, and perennials to think about (as well as the hardy and well-behaved non-natives).

But there are also warm-season veggies to start in our warm greenhouses, or above a heating mat -- tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and tomatillos, not to mention a host of other plants that enjoy a head start on spring.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Peas, onions, collards and lettuce

A wonderfully balmy winter day was perfect for planting.  Feb. 14 is often used as the marker for planting peas (garden, sugar snap, and snow) across the continent, but it's not often so pleasant as today, here in the Eastern U.S., although days like this are typical in late February.

The soil in the 'main' vegetable garden was frozen on the surface until about noon (it's shady this time of year now, because of the angle of the sun, and the increasing height of the shrub row and hollies beyond the fence).  The satellite garden beds were warm in contrast -- I meant to check the difference in soil temperatures.
peas, onions, and garlic in the satellite garden

I worked up the beds, planted 2 bundles of onion plants, sowed peas (of all sorts mentioned above),  sprinkled out some collards and sprouting broccoli seeds as an experiment, and poked some radish seeds around the pea plantings.

garlic and onion beds
My seed potatoes should be on their way tomorrow, so I'll get a couple of new beds ready for them.  (I'm eyeing the 'wasted' lawn space between the garden shed and the satellite garden again).   I need more space with full sun....

flats in cold frame
I tucked flats of newly-sown lettuce, mesclun, and 'peas-in-a-pot'-- a dwarf pea that caught my attention in a seed catalog -- into the cold frame.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

It's onion planting time

Encouraged by Randy's comment, and looking forward to spring-like weather this weekend, I'm going to plant at least half of my onion sets.  The soil is ready, so it'll be easy to tuck them in.

I have intermediate day-length samplers from Dixondale Farms --collections of red, sweet, and white onions that should do well in our daylengths in the Piedmont of South Carolina.  I thought I had ordered a short day sampler, too, but apparently not, checking the bunches that are waiting in the mud room.  But my intermediate samplers should do well  -- I've enjoyed our fresh onions in the past -- and we're solidly in the intermediate daylength zone.

dormant onion seedlings (
Yes, onions are cheap to buy. But fresh, juicy onions directly from the garden are definitely a treat.  And maybe I'll even have some to store this year.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cold house harvests

I continue to be amazed at how well the lettuce, arugula, spinach, kale, and mesclun mix has done in our 'cold' teaching greenhouse. 

We haven't run any heat all winter (and it's been exceptionally cold), but the warmth created through the poly covering, along with the stored heat of the barrels of water seem to provide enough heat for these greens to thrive. 

harvested lettuce mix
There are fungus gnats (a kid today said, hey, they're insects in the pots-it's organic, I replied -- it's OK), which are to be expected in warmer, rich soil, but I guess I need to figure out how to reduce their numbers.

I've been thrilled with this experiment (I provided seeds and bags of organic soil mix).  And we've had growth, not just winter harvest, thanks to our longer days at this latitude.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Birding in the Clemson Bottoms

The university where I work has a long history as an agricultural school, and the Bottoms are the last remnant of the riverine bottomlands along the Seneca River (now Lake Hartwell). 

This is an area that's been productively farmed for a long time, first by the Cherokee, then by Fort Hill plantation owners (John C. Calhoun and Thomas Green Clemson).  After the establishment of Clemson College, this area continued to be an important agricultural field.

Saved from inundation by Lake Hartwell by dikes created in the 60's (I think), the Bottoms are now divided between the Student Organic Farm, the former Aquaculture facility, and agronomic and horticultural research.

It's a great place to go birding, between the fields, ponds, and forest edges.

So in Field Ornithology this morning, we saw everything from Canada Geese, to Eastern Bluebirds, to Wilson's Snipe, to Eastern Meadowlarks.  Not to mention the Great Blue Heron, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Song Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Phoebe, American Robin, Belted Kingfisher, etc.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Spring is coming

It's a funny in-between time in the garden.  It's winter still, but buds are swelling and birds are starting to sing. 

My onion sets arrived today, but I'm not supposed to plant them until 6 weeks before the last frost. Hmm. That means the 1st of March, but that's still 3 weeks away. I definitely don't want to be too early, but even dormant onion sets can dry out.... We'll see. 

My 'seed' potatoes will be coming soon, too, so I hope we continue to have moderate (eg. normal) temperatures for awhile.

But the beds are ready for both onions and potatoes, so I'm keen to get planting....

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

A brown creeper

I'm quite sure I never noticed any brown creepers before now, although they're apparently quite common birds.  But in my birding lab a couple of weeks, we heard one, and glimpsed its behavior, and our instructor described it for us, and I reviewed 'Brown Creeper' in my apps and online guides later.

So, I was thrilled on a morning walk in the Garden to see (and identify) a brown creeper, working its way up the trunk of a large white oak, poking under the flaky bark for insects and insect larvae.

How exciting!


And Janet is quite right: Randy has great pictures of a Brown Creeper in his garden.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

A family affair

Mocha waiting during a photo session
We don't have children, but we have had great dogs.  (Not to mention our contributions to teaching lots of children and students, in any case). Mocha, our second, is an old boy now, pushing eleven years old.  His predecessor, Chessie, another Golden, was a wonderful guy -- Mocha's spirit brother.

Mocha has been with Tim through the entire book process, waiting patiently during photo shoots, lying in the study during long book writing sessions and edits, and providing diversion by wanting to have his ball thrown NOW, or wanting to drink from the magic faucet (from the tub).

He'll stand there waiting for one of us to turn on the tap.

But, it's reminded me to say that all of the proceeds of Tim's Wildflowers and Plant Communities book will be going to plant conservation initiatives in the regions that his book covers.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

A book arrives...

Woo, hoo!  Advance copies of my gardening companion's book, Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachians and Piedmont arrived unexpectedly today.  Totally amazing.  We knew that the availability date had been pushed up to mid-March, thanks to Amazon and UNC Press, but didn't expect receiving hardback and paperback copies today.

It's so remarkable to see an idea transformed into a wonderful book through many (almost 10) years of hard work.  Tim's created something that's a significant contribution to encouraging folks to learn more about plants and plant communities in our part of the world.  It's something to be proud of, and I'm so proud of him. 

It's not easy to write a book - I've done two relatively small ones, the second with a team, and they're a LOT of work.  It takes discipline and a willingness to work long hours, not to mention honing the narrative, taking better photos, proofing the ms, etc. etc.

On this book (it's over 500 pages), I've been the first reader and editor and photo manager (and supportive spouse, too, along with Mocha, who accompanied Tim on his photo excursions, serving as the 'bear dog'-- hmmm). So, it's a labor of love all around.

So I've got a big grin on my face this evening.  What a pleasure to welcome a book into circulation, both in print and in digital form (in progress)!

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Easy vegetables and pricey produce

I'm just about finished revising a piece about vegetable gardening for beginners. 

This isn't a easy topic in 2500 words (my assignment).

Vegetable gardening IS easy, but...there are some basics - sun, good soil (created usually), plenty of water and nutrients, and a willingness to weed and harvest often.

So I enjoyed playing around with the Gardener's Supply Kitchen Gardening planner, to see how a 4' X 4' plot looked for a summer layout.  They're a great company, and I enjoy their e-newsletters and website, along with their products.

Gardener's Supply Kitchen Garden program result
This is what it looks like, but in the program, the names of the vegetables are shown -- very nice.

Another e-newsletter I received today from had a story about Planting Pricey Produce.  Most vegetable gardeners can relate to this -- they want how much for a bunch of kale or red mustard in the farmer's market?  This is usually about when I'm tired of harvesting and eating kale from my own garden!  And hmm, my bunches of chard look pretty good, too.  And the baby beets last spring were excellent, too....

Now, I'm conveniently ignoring all the effort I've put into my soil, raised beds, watering, etc. as has the farmer, in addition to the expense of what I've added, in terms of soil amendments and organic fertilizers, not to mention the raised bed materials, etc. etc.

But, it definitely pays off over time to 'grow your own' --  in terms of cost, but more importantly in terms of tastiness, nutrition, and healthy produce.

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