Thursday, March 31, 2011

Changeable weather

I had two interesting comments via my Facebook feed about my last post.

tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings
Yes, climate change does mean we have more weather extremes and exceptional weather patterns.  No, it doesn't mean that we can plant tomatoes earlier than ever - the April 8 hard freeze of 4 years ago underscored that.

The exceptional snows of the last two winters fall within the predictions of variable weather and flows of air north and south, suggested by climate change models.

And of course, we should be babying our tomato seedlings in warm sunny spots, currently, however we can provide that. (Mine are still in the garden shed under lights and on a heating pad).

Among climate change models, weather in spring is increasingly variable.  Hmm.  We've certainly experienced that in the Southeastern US.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Planting time

For those of us in the Eastern US, an excellent 'window of opportunity' for planting trees, shrubs, and perennials is now through mid-to-late April.  It's planting time.

Yes, containerized plants can be planted all year round, but it's a lot easier to get plants established in fall or spring, when adequate soil moisture is available.

We've had plenty of rain this spring, so the soil has been recharged (to some degree) from the droughty summer and fall last year.  Waiting much later than the 3rd week in April in the Piedmont of the SE US is not so good, as plants have to depend on supplemental water to establish root systems, often in high air temperatures.

Warm-season veggies are in another category;  they're definitely best planted after soil and air temperatures are thoroughly warm.  And supplemental water is always needed).  I'm still babying my tomato seedlings on a heating mat under lights in the garden shed.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Eating local

We're eating lots of home-grown greens currently, with the excellent addition of frozen tomatoes and beans from last summer.  I'm fortunate to have a lovely source of local eggs via the CAFE (Clemson Area Food Network) -- the Baird Family Farm.

Their mixed eggs are lovely and delicious.  And I'm glad to be able to buy locally-raised goat meat from Billy's Boer Meat Goat Farm, too.

But an invitation to a discussion about growing food (I didn't manage to get to it) has me thinking a bit.  Yes, local is definitely good and we want to encourage small scale farmers and provide a market for them, and it MAY become more urgent as fuel costs rise, etc.

But, as a traveler, I also appreciate that small farmers in other parts of the world are sustained through the global trade in food.  I don't buy asparagus out of season from Mexico or Peru (big agriculture, I think) or tomatoes out of season either from any source, but why not support Mexican grown hot-house peppers (vs Holland or BC grown) or organic frozen veggies grown in Asia?

Small farmers everywhere need our support, to be sure.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Bloodroot fruits

Bloodroot seeds with elaiosomes

Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, is a wonderful spring woodland flower in the Eastern U.S.  Its reproductive ecology is fascinating:  ants disperse seeds of bloodroot, as they're interested in the lipid-rich elaiosomes, transporting the seeds as well as the elaiosomes back to their nests.

This is a photo taken by my gardening companion (and newly published author, woo-hoo!) of Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont.

I'm proud of what he's produced with 8+ years of hard work (no apologies for the enthusiasm).  And the books have arrived, and are ready to be shipped.  And all of the proceeds will go to conservation in the Southern Appalachians and Piedmont.

Mocha would be proud, too!

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spring green

It's been remarkable to see spring explode this year.  Perhaps this is normal, and I don't remember it being quite so quick, or didn't observe it closely enough.

Spring in the Piedmont
My gardening companion and I were wishing that we could see what will be happening in the mountains next weekend, although plenty will be happening (plant-wise) here at home in the Piedmont.

He's taking a group of college students in CU's Students for Environmental Action to visit a premier wildflower site on Sunday -Station Cove Botanical Area in USDA Forest Service land, adjacent to Oconee Station State Park.  It's a wonderland of botanical treasures, especially spring woodland wildflowers.

Green haze of spring
But I do think that the warm weather in February and early March has created an environment that has promoted the simultaneous flowering of oaks and hickories, flowering of redbuds and dogwoods, and it means now that SPRING is here.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rain is welcome

A rainy weekend in March is always welcome.  We rely on spring rains (of whatever sort) to get us through droughty periods in early and mid-summer.  Thankfully, this rain comes after a much warmer than normal spell, and helps rehydrate soils.

Clemson is the red dot!

This front was wide and brought rain almost all day, close to an inch, I think, judging by the pot saucer near the mudroom door.  And more rain is expected overnight and tomorrow.

We're still facing abnormally dry conditions, moving towards drought.  The arrow marks roughly where we are in the Piedmont of South Carolina.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Home to spring

We came back down the Blue Ridge escarpment from the mountains today to spring in full flower. 

It's happening in the mountains, to be sure.  The daffodils, cherry trees, hyacinths, forsythia, and narcissus are in full bloom there, with tulips just emerging.

Dogwood, sassafras, and butterfly bush (with white pine in back)
But at home in the Piedmont, spring has exploded.  Oaks are in flower now (snuffle), dogwoods are getting close to being at peak, redbuds are in flower, leaves have expanded, etc., etc.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spinach and pea seedlings

lettuce, mesclun mix, spinach, and pea seedlings
A blast of cold air is expected tonight in the Southeast, both in the mountains and piedmont.  My spinach, lettuce, mustard, and chard seedlings should be fine in their beds full of dark heat-trapping soil. 

mustard seedlings with overwintered mustards
 The tomato, pepper, and eggplants seedlings (transported up to the mountains for spring break) were subjected to toughening temperatures of about 50°F during the day with plenty of wind.  Not optimal, but that's what was available.  They're tucked into the 'mechanical room' tonight, which is toasty because of the Rennai instant hot water system that serves both our hot water and radiant heating system.

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Northern Flickers

Landscapes and gardens (not to mention wilder places) are alive with (cool) things to notice, observe, and learn about.  My initial thought about this bird, observed poking around an old stump last June, was that it was female red-bellied woodpecker -- happily Randy (of Randy and Meg's Garden Paradise) pointed out that it was a Northern Flicker.

Since then, we've seen quite a few Northern Flickers in the back ravine, including three yesterday (spotted by my gardening companion, who's started to share my enthusiasm for learning more about birds).
Northern Flicker probing into a stump, June 2010
Northern Flicker foraging in an old stump, June 2010
And in my Field Ornithology class this spring, I was reminded about how Northern Flickers forage on the ground for ants and other insects (unlike other woodpeckers), so the poking about a dead stump would fit that profile (as I noted in the June 2010 post) and apparently had forgotten....

But we're both hip now to the distinctive calls of Northern Flickers now, and their behavior, so count that as another bird learned!

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday

I'm not sure what I signed up for when I clicked on Mr. Linky's widget, but I think I'm supposed to post a Wildflower Wednesday report, inspired by my blogging colleague, Gail, of Clay and Limestone.

Most of our native 'wildflowers' currently in flower are trees (achoo!), but we have red maples with  colorful fruits of yellows and reds, and lots of Asian plants in flower.

Trillium and bloodroot (Sanguinaria) are in flower in the Piedmont with the mountains not far behind.

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Ruby-throated hummingbird migration

Wow, thank to one of my favorite real-time citizen science/classroom science sites (Journey North), I see that early ruby-throated hummingbirds have made it way past the Carolinas.  Check out this map.  Let it run to see the progression of the migration.

I need to get out my feeders immediately!

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Beets, carrots, greens, and more

I sowed more seeds this evening.  It's exceptionally warm in the mountains, with teasingly warm soil. 

I'm quite sure it's too soon to sow beets and carrots (I did anyway), but an Asian green from Burpee  (Senposai, a cool-sounding hybrid between cabbage and mustard spinach-Komatsuna) might do well, along with a Japanese turnip variety from a local seed company (Sow True) called Shogoin.

My spinach, peas, and chard have all emerged, but I was chastened by seeing an extremely productive bed of overwintered chard and spinach near the local whole foods/organic market. 

Yikes, the spinach leaves were giant (uh, thanks to 10-10-10?) and the chard looked big, too, for this time of year,  And this was just in a small front-yard veggie garden.  Hmm.    Or maybe they just hadn't harvested the spinach, so that's the reason for the big leaves....or it's some enormous-leaved spinach variety?

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Sowing more seeds

I saw these recycled paper pots at a local hardware store, and thought they'd be worth an experiment.  I loved my Cowpot trials from last summer, but the pots themselves don't hold up very well for seed starting, barely long enough to transplant a crumbling pot with a seedling.

Traditional peat pots (aside from their peat content) don't work very well, in my experience, being slow to break down, and wicking moisture from edges poking above the soil surface.

So I'm interested to see how these recycled paper pots do.  I sowed seeds of three different varieties of chard and genovose basil.  We'll see!

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Don't step here!

We're enclosing a former deck (in our house in the mountains), basically as a studio space.

The lovely garden studio that the previous owner of the house had designed for me (down on the old coal road) came with a heart-stopping price tag for construction.  That wasn't going to happen.

So, we're creating a sunroom studio on what used to be a hot tub deck, then unused deck space, except for some summer grilling.

It's brilliant, actually, and why we didn't think of it before investing time and energy (and $$) into the garden studio design -- well, I'm not sure!

But I'm wanting to protect my perennial meadow/border in front from trampling workers, so set up a temporary barrier with tomato stakes and plant ties.  Hopefully this looks more funky than putting up caution tape or silt fencing...

Tomato stake barrier with ribbon
emerging perennials

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Vegetable transplants

Winter greens
I'm juggling tomato and pepper seedlings at the same time that I'm harvesting greens.  Yikes. I up-potted all of the tomato seedlings this morning and took them with me for spring break care in the coming week.  They'll have to go inside and outside from the 'mechanical' room at night to daytime temperatures and sun outside, instead of their cosy heating mat and shoplight on a timer.

Hmm.  I'm also worrying about the unseasonably warm weather, as pleasant as it may be.  I may need to dash down from the mountains in the middle of the week to the Piedmont to water.  Hmm.

a collard relative
But the winter greens in my raised beds in the mountains were a welcome sight this afternoon.

Spinach, peas, mustards, and mesclun sown in late February have emerged well, as well as a mystery mustard that I failed to record.  (It's doing very well in the lower raised bed).

purple kale
Arugula, purple kale, and collards are ready to harvest.  It's a good thing we like greens!  And they're good for us, too.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creating a landscape you love

I had an excellent excursion to Greenville yesterday morning to hear Julie Moir Messervy speak - she designed the Toronto Music Garden and has a recent book out that's fabulous called Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love. She did an inspiring presentation.

The essential points were that we (as gardeners and homeowners) know what we want, but just need to go through the process of examining our landscapes and get started.

It's great advice.

Much of what I do (as my work as a garden educator) is encourage folks to get started.  Try things. Think about what you love, and what you remember.   

What makes you feel at home (in your garden)?  What makes you happy to be outside?

Messervy's points are brilliant, and I certainly recommend reading Home Outside!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011


These apricot-colored tulips are at their peak.  Bought as an impulse at the fall plant sale, I tucked them in an old pot near the potting bench.  But as they emerged, we took them out to the porch -- with the warm weather and time change, we'll have dinner out there this evening.

It's a reminder that we're almost to official spring.

Thank goodness.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dogs and gardening

We've loved (and fussed at) our gardening assistant.  He was pesky (he liked to eat young kale and collard leaves), but he was good about not stepping into my raised vegetable beds (mostly).

He loved to supervise the squirrels.  Ha!

But he kept us company as we did all sorts of fun (to us) things in the garden - planting, transplanting, weeding, mulching, etc.

But we had to let him go yesterday after a short, but difficult illness.

He was a great dog.

Mocha on his 10th birthday, June 2010

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cleaning up perennial beds

I tidied up one of the perennial borders today (sorely needed), and dug a new vegetable bed in a sunny area (the main vegetable garden is becoming increasingly shaded by the holly and Ternstromia hedge.  The front meadow is next on the agenda for clean-up.

It was unseasonably warm - I'm not 'used to' 75+°F temperatures yet.  It's still early for that -- it's only mid March.

It felt downright hot in the full sun, but then I was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.  Even having worn a hat, I'm feeling sunburnt, a hazard this time of year (more normal in April).

The garlic and onions are doing well, the asparagus is slowly emerging, and I've hopefully replanted pea shoots (those darn squirrels keep digging them up as they germinate and emerge).  Hhrmph.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spring vegetable transplants

My local farm supply store (as well as our nearest 'big box' garden center) has received new shipments of vegetables (all from the major company that supplies them, Bonnie Plants).  Bonnie does a good job of producing transplants, to be sure.

What's startling is the overlap between spring and summer veggies -- collards, cabbage, and lettuce are sharing space with tomatoes and peppers.  I don't remember seeing that before, but maybe I missed it.

Even in a warming climate, it's too soon to put tomatoes and peppers out in my Zone 7b garden -- the soil is still cold, in spite of a warm February, and the overnight temperatures are unsettled (34°F last night).  NOT the temperatures that tomatoes, peppers, and other warm-season vegetables like.

Peas and asparagus are only slowly emerging now.  So tomatoes and peppers will not thrive at all, for the misguided folks who buy the transplants (and don't coddle them indoors in warm temperatures).

But, I was tempted again by leek seedlings.  Yikes.  They're all too small to directly be transplanted into soil (uh, Bonnie's website has images of robust pencil-sized seedlings).  The numerous seedlings in these pots are small, barely having germinated and sent up shoots.  I managed to distribute quite a number of them between containers and a garden plot, hopefully for transplanting in the future  -- the survivors of last year's impulse purchase were delicious last winter.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Local grains

Thanks to a comment by Commonweeder, I checked out her supplier of locally grown wheat.  Wow.

It's encouraging to have small farmers reclaim growing grains locally.  The economics favor the mass producers in the midwest, where efficiency and soils are definitely advantageous. 

But isn't it important to encourage locally grown grain, too, whether it's wheat, oats, corn, or barley?  In North Carolina, there's a bread flour project, supporting growers of organic wheat, to serve (artisan) bakers in the region. Rarefied, maybe, but local production may be the future of sustainable agriculture.

Potatoes are apparently the most efficient carbohydrate-rich crop, though, if times really get tough.

But I'd love to be able to buy regional grains (or flour) to make my own bread.  I'm a bread maker already, and buy flour from a nationally-distributed source of North American flour from an employee-owned company (King Arthur) at my local grocery.

This makes sense to me.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Growing wheat for bread

At the Organic Grower's School in Asheville last weekend, a speaker suggested that we could grow enough wheat to bake a loaf of bread each week on a 30 ft. X 10 ft. plot.

Hmm, that's 300 sq. ft. -- a nice sized space, and larger than I'd devote to grains in my vegetable gardens, but it still didn't seem possible to me, but what do I know about wheat growing?  Not much, to be sure. 

But, poking around, I found information on about how a 10 X 10 ft. plot would yield enough wheat to yield between 10-25 loaves of bread, so maybe the speaker wasn't so far off.

But, of course, the grain needs to be threshed (freed of chaff) and then ground, before one makes it into bread.  So it's not a simple process or particularly easy.

It was an interesting revelation.  My gardening companion and I probably eat a loaf and a half of bread a week, more or less, although now I'll think I'll need to keep track, depending on how much extra from dinner goes into lunches the next day.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Signs of spring

The Iris cristata foliage is up, buds of the hickories, oaks, and blueberry relatives are swollen, and the songs of birds are louder than ever in the morning.  Spring is progressing. 

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Spring, 2010
The bloodroot plants along the front walk are flowering, although there's still no competition to last year's flowering (above).

It's still early, though, and a few years ago, we experienced a significant late April 8 (Easter that year) freeze.  It caused a lot of freeze damage, even to native plants, as it was a hard freeze, much later than usual.

But this has been a year for enjoying the non-native Magnolia stellata and M. acuminata flowers, following a long warm February.

Erratic weather is something that is predicted to become more common, as the climate changes.  It's worrisome, to be sure.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring is popping up everywhere

In the Southeastern U.S., we're in full swing now with spring flowers. 

Many of the Asian ornamentals are flowering (or have flowered):  camellias, Asian species of Magnolia, Prunus mume (Japanese apricot) and forsythia.  The Mediterranean bulbs- crocus, Leucojum, and daffodils are flowering, soon to be followed by tulips and later flowering species (Allium, etc.).

But in our part of the world, the kudos go to our native spring woodland wildflowers (spring ephemerals). They're wonderful in the rich cove forests of the mountains and in remnant patches in the piedmont.  Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) has emerged and starting to flower in our home garden. This was last year at the end of March.  

I need to check in the woodland area along the Heusel Nature Trail in the South Carolina Botanical Garden (where I work) - bloodroot is abundant below the path, along the slope down to the creek.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spring is definitely here

We now have Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia), Trout Lily (Erythronium umbilicatum), and Hepatica flowering in the Woodland Wildflower Garden at the South Carolina Botanical Garden (where I work). Wow.

It's early for the Oconee Bells and Erythronium, but on time for the Hepatica americana, which is usually the first native spring emphemeral to flower in our rich cove forest communities.

At the Garden, these were transplanted as rescued plants many years ago.

They've struggled in the hot, exceptionally dry summers that we've had in the last decade, as we don't have an source of water there, except for proximity to the stream.

They're a wonderful reminder to get out and look for spring wildflowers in our natural areas, state parks, and reserves.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

First native spring wildflowers

Leaving for work this morning, I saw a lovely cluster of open coral honeysuckle flowers (Lonicera sempervirens) on the fence near the garage.

This is a photo from a previous year.  Quite nice.  Just think of seeing a first cluster of flowers....

 They're the first native flowers I've seen this spring, though I know Hepatica and Shortia are also in flower (not to mention all the flowers of wind-pollinated trees!) Achoo!

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Local food

We've been experiencing an upsurge of interest in local food for several years now.

Surrounding our small college town, in spite of Clemson being home to the land-grant institution in our state, we don't have many small farms anymore. 

But hopefully, increased demand will encourage increased production.

These were local eggs that I purchased through a fledgling organization supporting local farmers (CAFE-Clemson Area Food Exchange).  I wish I had the time to keep chickens myself, but I'm glad to support folks that can.  These are actually a lovely variety of colors which doesn't show up in this (quickly taken, non-flash) photo!