Thursday, June 30, 2011

Local food and thanks to farmers

Fresh garlic needing to be cleaned
I've been cleaning a lot of garlic, potatoes, and onions lately.

Much is destined for fresh use in the next couple of weeks, rather than storage, but preparing vegetables for either requires work - removing dirt, extra foliage and roots, sorting out for drying, taking all of the clippings out to the compost pile, etc.

I'm quite certain I didn't appreciate the effort required in producing a bag of onions in the grocery store before I started growing them myself.

Maybe they bounce down a river of clean water in industrial agriculture, but someone still needs to trim their roots and stems and remove their tops (maybe this is a subject for a web search-- Hmm... check out this article about onion cleaning procedures on a small farm).

Fresh onions are totally delicious, of course, being juicy and succulent when cooked.  Quite a different vegetable than the cured ones for long-term storage.  Ditto with garlic.  And fresh potatoes are exceptionally tasty, too.  But, it's worth considering what it takes to have a bag of red potatoes at the grocery perfectly cleaned and ready to take home. 

This is about as big as my carrots ever get.
I'm not complaining, really, but am glad for the experiences which remind me how fresh food, grown locally (or far away), ultimately depends on the folks who grow, harvest, clean, and package fruits and vegetables.

And whether we buy at a tailgate market or at a supermarket, it's well worth thinking about who grew those vegetables and how, and what it took for you to be able to put them in your shopping basket.

Cleaning a couple of bushels of small onions has reminded me to be (more) grateful for folks who grow our food.

(Here were some previous thoughts along the same subject, but focusing on greens).

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A newly emerged pipevine swallowtail

pipevine swallowtail
After noticing the chrysalises last week, I was delighted to see a newly emerged pipevine swallowtail this morning, hanging on the ledge outside the bathroom window (near the pipevine plant). 

Its wings were already expanded, but it wasn't yet ready to fly.  It stayed there for maybe 45 minutes, then finally flew away.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Interesting hoop houses

Chade and Tuscan kale with tomatoes beyond

On a garden tour last weekend, I saw both small-scale and commercial scale hoop-houses being used. 

They were similar in being used in summer and had sides rolled up to provide airflow.
preparation for winter greens (erzly spring)

The "homeowners" hoop-house was a shared one;  the gardeners who established it on a nearby (to them) lot estimated that it could feed 6 families (with vegetables) over the course of a year.

I was totally impressed.

Neighborhood hoop house
This hoop-house had tomatoes and eggplant that were huge (in comparison to my open-grown ones), surrounded by healthy-looking blocks of Tuscan kale and redbor kale (hmm, now, in late June...)

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Giant Leopard Moth

Early yesterday morning, we spotted this striking moth.  It was perched on a low point of one of the deck supports.  Cool!

It seems to be a Giant Leopard Moth, but I'm certainly not a moth expert!

striking black and white moth (probably a Giant Leopard Moth)


Pipevine swallowtail pupae

A large pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) rambles up to the roof on a trellis outside my study window in the Piedmont.

Some years, it's a great host for pipevine swallowtail caterpillars; in other years, we don't see any.  This has been a good year for early sighting of butterflies and caterpillars, maybe because of unseasonably warm temperatures early in spring.

Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar
I noticed chrysalides (=chrysalises) in numerous places on the top of the porch arches and along the base of the gutters. They'll probably emerge this summer (I saw some empty ones).

I hadn't noticed so many in previous years.
Chrysalises and (probably 4th) instar

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A visit home

A rainy June
A quick trip back to the Piedmont to take care of some garden things -- getting a dead white pine removed and mowing the grass -- as well as taking Woody to see our vet, found lush growth in the garden.

OK, it's good news that it's been rainy, and I was glad not to find a bunch of crispy plants. It was a bit daunting, however, to see HOW much pokeweed, Oxalis, Digitaria, Abutilon, and other weeds had popped up and grown in the vegetable beds in just a couple of weeks, not to mention volunteer redbud, sassafras, and black cherry seedlings elsewhere in the landscape. 

The front meadow is ridiculously exuberant, too;  the common milkweed, planted for monarch caterpillars, has thrived and is falling onto the driveway, and all of the other meadow plants (Solidago, Thermopsis, Helianthus hirsutus, Indian grass, etc. are huge).

Eggplant in container (surrounded by crabgrass!)
The Campsis radicans  on the trellises in front of the garage are thriving.  They were planted this spring, and have already reached the trellis tops.  Hopefully, we'll get some flowers later this summer.

But most rewarding (aside from making a start on the weeding) was harvesting new potatoes (yellow, red, and purple) and yellow and white onions from the satellite garden, along with some nice large leeks grown in a container, and ruby chard in the kitchen window block of the main vegetable garden (doing well in spite of previous problems with root-knot nematodes).
Chard (after harvesting dinner leaves)

Things are doing well in the main vegetable garden blocks following a couple of seasons of being fallow and (possibly) the beneficial nematode treatment, too.  A post later that summer after application suggested I wasn't very convinced.

Except for some fish (from the freezer), everything for dinner was harvested from the Piedmont garden this afternoon.  What fun!

And there are lots of blueberries to pick tomorrow.  And tomatoes to come here, too, as well as in the mountains.

I've added some photos to this post -- somehow, I got distracted yesterday by the weeding, and Woody's visit to the vet.  Happily, he received a clean bill of health, although he's slightly underweight -- masked by how furry he is.  He'll enjoy a bit more kibble.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Late spring flowers

A visit to the Biltmore grounds this morning (our early morning walk) found us admiring a couple of flowers, and enjoying the early morning peacefulness.  (Biltmore is a busy place on weekends and summer afternoons).

Woody cooling off
I would have been up for hikes off the Blue Ridge Parkway, but the poison ivy at lower mountain elevations is LUSH (and I'm terribly susceptible).  Woody would be a magnet for poison ivy's urishiol, hhrmph, and a hug would be not a good thing. (I know this through experience).

But Biltmore's gardens and grounds are always fun to visit (we have season passes), and we passed the place where Mocha fell through the ice in the Bass Pond in the winter, and thought about how we actually took Woody home from the entrance to Biltmore (our meeting place).

But check out this wonderful lily flower (on a cart with lots of others destined for planting).

Monarda didyma
And ditto to these fabulous Monarda didyma flowers, too.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Restoring the ecology of your backyard (and front yard, too)

We've embarked on our second restoration project, in the landscape of our small house in the mountains of North Carolina.  I was reminded of this, prompted to reflect on how I became a gardener.

I was an ecologist first, as was my gardening companion (aka my husband Tim), but we were glad to transform our barren (read lawn-rich) landscape in the Piedmont, to a habitat garden full of life today. 

It's what I count as being one of the most rewarding experiences that I've had as a gardener.

It wasn't hard, or especially time-consuming; it just required finding the plants we wanted (largely native), digging holes (Tim did most of that), and getting started. I added vegetable garden beds in two areas (and would love to expand them, but, you need to be mindful of the time it takes to tend to pampered domesticated crops!...)

In the mountains, we had nothing much more than mulch with a few plants in front, and below the house, a few plantings descending to an invasive-rich forest. 

Uh, we thought we wanted a low-maintenance landscape, but it was SO depressing to have bare gravel and mulch, where plants could thrive.  So that didn't last long and I've made a number of posts already about the progress of our mountain landscape and garden. 

Thinking about a garden studio down the slope encouraged us to embrace that part of our landscape;  the studio project turned into a sunroom and deck expansion project which was much more rewarding and makes a lot more sense.  I'm looking forward to using the sunroom as my 'studio' this summer (it's almost finished)!

Thank goodness my gardening companion enjoys the physical activity of moving mulch and rooting out invasive ivy, privet, honeysuckle, etc.  He's a leaf collecting devotee, too. 

It's my 'job' to put in the understory woodland herbaceous layer on the ravine slope -- a fun one, to be sure.  I'll be planning the bed layout this summer.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Growing vegetables

A friend of mine (CEN) said that you need to be a cook to grow vegetables. 

She's definitely right, I thought, as I was scrubbing yet more beets, onions, and leeks for part of dinner tonight.  It takes time to prepare vegetables, whether they're from the supermarket or your own garden.

I'm being a good local eater and cook (and by extension, my gardening companion is, too).  We've been diligently eating greens all spring (kale, collards, spinach, and chard) and recently have been eating beets, carrots, leeks, and onions, seasoned with home-grown garlic.  Uh, I'd like to have a bit of broccoli, but with all of these other veggies, it's hard to justify buying any!

I do buy fresh mushrooms (shitake and button) and the occasional hot-house red pepper (I always feel a bit guilty, but hey, they're terribly healthy.

It's an interesting conundrum, in a time we can buy almost anything we want (vegetable or fruit), in the global marketplace. And it's also a 'get real' thought as many of us try to eat more 'local' food.

This was an interesting graphic from Roger Doiron at Kitchen Gardening International about the disconnect between what we grow to eat (modelled after the White House kitchen garden) and what we subsidize as tax-payers in the US.

From Kitchen Gardening International (Roger Doiron)

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A new gardening assistant

We lost Mocha (our second Golden Retriever) in March, and were waiting for him to send us a replacement (that's our vet's nice idea).

I started poking around the web a week or so ago, looking for puppies or a rescue dog (Mocha must have been whispering in my ear), without much success.

And somehow, my gardening companion suggested classified ads (which hardly exist online), and I thought of Craig's list, a popular free online service for all sorts of things, including pets.

I looked at pet listings for Asheville, NC yesterday morning, and made my way through a number of pages of unpromising listings about guinea pigs, pit bull puppies, free kittens, dogs 'free to a good home', until at 6 or 7 days worth of pages I came across a listing for an "AKC Golden Retriever (TN)"

Woody snoozing
He turned out to be a dog 'rescued' from a family who didn't have the resources to keep him, and had been kept in the backyard, without much attention at all, and whom they were taking to "the pound".

When the fellow (a long distance trucker) of the young couple who rescued him crossed paths with these folks, he said, oh, I'll make sure he has a good home, and took him home to his extremely good-hearted fiancee, instead of letting him go to a shelter.

The couple who rescued him already have 4 dogs, cats, and rabbits, so really couldn't keep another (very large) dog, but in the couple of months that they had him, helped him learn how to play, be less anxious, took him to the vet, but also realized that he loved to be with people and be petted, etc. and thought he would flourish as an only dog.

She was careful to screen interested folks on Craig's list, trying to find the right fit for this fellow.

We must have passed the test (we're good dog people, after all), and Woody, as we're calling him, is snoozing at my feet.  He's a big guy (about 90 lbs), extremely furry and soft, and is already enjoying walks, treats, and hugs.

We're happy that Mocha has sent us a replacement.

Woody tired after his walk!

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Harvesting beets

It's been a lot of fun to have decent beets.  Our mountain raised beds (filled with compost) are ideal;  I've never managed to have much luck growing beets in the piedmont, even with heavily amended soil.

But we've been enjoying beets (and onions and garlic from the piedmont vegetable beds) -- hard not to like freshly harvested beets and their greens.  Yum.  Here are two views of the same bunch, directly after harvest (hmm, and just prior to being part of our dinner).

beets, onions, and garlic

beets, fresh from the garden

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

More sedums

Sedums HAVE become much more popular, but I'm still amazed that they're not used more.  Our front door sedum bed (in the mountains) is wonderful, full of colors and textures, and changing with the seasons.

Here's what it's looking like currently.

sedums in early June

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Home gardening

I've seen a huge resurgence in vegetable gardening over the last 5 to 6 years.

When I first started offering classes about growing vegetables (at the botanical garden where I work), there was a tepid response at best.

But then master gardeners and others became interested in attractive edible landscapes, kitchen gardening, and lasagna gardening.

Then the 'Great Recession' hit and lots more folks were interested in 'growing their own' vegetables.

There have been numerous recent books about vegetable gardening rolled out (most of which are great) -- just get started, is my thought.

My friend and colleague, Bob Polomski, (author of Month by Month Gardening in the Carolinas) forwarded a link to this great graphic that documents our resurging interest in vegetable gardening, from the National Gardening Association.

I'm totally amazed (and excited) to see that a quarter of Americans, more or less, are growing vegetables.  How cool is that!  There's nothing more local than harvesting your own vegetables of whatever sort.
I'm not surprised that tomatoes are number one, in  terms of what folks are growing.  I'm always bemused by cucumbers (as they're among the few vegetables that I don't have much affinity with).  Sweet peppers (yeah!), carrots (difficult for us in the SE, unless we have very deep raised beds, summer squash, nice if we avoid squash vine borers (and I do hope the local woodchucks stay in grassy areas far from us)

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A wonderful sunset

I didn't manage to capture the brilliant oranges of the final sunset, but the back-lit puffy clouds were amazing earlier in the evening.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Rooting tomatoes

I've been a bit late in trying to get my tomatoes properly supported, so they've been growing in all directions.  The unseasonable heat is encouraging growth!

The first order of business was to get in the tomato supports and twine the leader shoot around them (I like to use the curvy poles in the raised beds, although I'm also training some up trellises in the side beds).

In wider beds, I like to use sturdy tomato cages, but in the narrow raised beds that I have here in the mountains, the poles look nicer and don't take up as much space.

But, in pinching back the exuberant axillary shoots, extra branches, etc., I thought I'd propagate an offshoot of one of the Cherokee Purple tomatoes, which was already showing plenty of root primordia on the stem.  As I harvest beets, carrots, and onions, there'll be more space for other things, whether more tomatoes or more shade-tolerant veggies like chard.

I just received a nice e-newsletter from Fine Gardening, a favorite gardening magazine, with an excellent article about pruning tomatoes -- more than I usually manage to do, but informative!

I was delighted to see that my shoot (tucked in a very deep pot) managed to survive a hot afternoon, and perked up by evening.  It'll be ready to plant in a week or two.
lower bed looking towards ravine

Here's a view of the lower raised bed (with the original tomato plant marked).   It doesn't really get enough sun to be very productive for tomatoes, but I've planted several, along with some squashes.  We'll see!

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Raised beds

The raised beds in front (of our house in the mountains) are looking good.

The last sugar snap peas are giving way to tomatoes and pole beans (greasy cut beans - an Southern Appalachian heirloom bean and yard-long beans - the Asian version (twining) of our southern cowpea -- but much better in my opinion.

I harvested bunches of beets, carrots, and onions from the raised beds this afternoon -- they'll be tasty roasted for tomorrow's dinner.  (And I'm thinking I need to head down to our Piedmont vegetable garden to harvest the rest of the garlic, maybe most of the onions, and check the potatoes.)

A new red potato popped up when I was checking some "leftover" plants that I'd stuck in a corner here in the mountains. What fun!

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Eastern Black Bear sighting!

Late afternoon yesterday, I noticed that the seed feeder was pulled down on its side.  I remarked half-joking, to my gardening companion, who had been at his table downstairs busily working, "hey, I think a bear's knocked down the bird feeder.  Surely, you'd have noticed, I said."  He said, "sure, I'd have noticed that and went outside to check the feeder."

That's when he saw the culprit, a young male black bear, who'd had an excellent snack, washed down with the sugar water in the adjacent hummingbird feeder, disappearing back down the ravine.

I didn't manage to get my camera in time, but we did have a good laugh about his not noticing that a bear was at the bird feeder basically just a stone's throw from the windows!

In the mountains of North Carolina, black bear populations are high enough that young bears (usually males) sometimes wander into urban areas.  We're close to downtown Asheville here in the mountains, so it seems pretty amazing to see a bear this close.

A young bear two summers ago at our feeder
Here's a link to our last backyard bear sighting in July, 2009.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rain gardens

UNCA Rain garden (with Umbrella leaf magnolia)
I've been thinking about rain garden projects lately. We'd like to be able to demonstrate a rain garden (along with our rain barrel and cistern) adjacent to the education building (at the botanical garden where I work).

We've definitely had water challenges over the years in this space. The metal "Butler" building that comprises our education center (adults above and Nature Center below) initially had no gutters, leading to moisture issues on the ground level.

River birch and cinnamon fern (UNCA)
When I first started at the Garden, the volunteers and I were faced with periodically flooded conditions in what was the 'work' area at the time.  Not pleasant at all.

So now we've diverted the roof water to a very large cistern on one side, and a rain water/landscape drain on another side, and we have a final open gutter downspout to divert to a rain garden, hopefully, that we'll install in the fall.

another view of the UNCA rain garden plantings
Enjoy the images of  UNCA rain gardens for inspiration!

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