Sunday, October 30, 2011

Winter vegetable gardening

I'm planning on winter greens this year.  Yes, I've already planted kale and collards (as well as broccoli and brussel sprouts), but I'd like to try to carry over some less hardy winter greens (lettuce, spinach and mustards) with a bit of protection, especially in the piedmont, where woodchucks and squirrels like to be herbivorous.

In some years, winter vegetables are easier, but the last two winters have been unusually cold, apparently due to arctic air flowing south as the arctic regions themselves are warmer.  Hmmm.

After trying to figure out how best to provide the small-scale protection needed (think low hoop tunnels, etc.) in the satellite garden, while still looking half-way decent and not requiring carpentry skills that I don't have, I realized that I can use my vinyl-coated tomato cages, fastened with 'earth staples' and covered with plastic to create nice rectangle-shaped protection.  Aha!

satellite garden beds ready to plant/cold frame with greens and leek seedlings
The beds are ready now, after dispatching the (almost) last of the tomato vines, and I'm ready to plant tomorrow late afternoon!

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rain garden planting

rainstorm prior to planting
We've got a small area of roof and a larger area of compacted lawn served by a created rain garden adjacent to our education building (at the South Carolina Botanical Garden).

Notice the stream of water entering off the pathway!

Our recent rain garden planting included a number of full-sun perennials that can tolerate periodic inundation, as well as droughty periods.

They're listed below, but my message, as the plant choice person, is that you need to know the conditions of your site, when choosing plants for a 'rain garden' which after all, is nothing more than a well-prepared perennial bed (and equivalent to a nice bit of natural vegetation/native plant community).

plants ready for planting
laid-out plants
Here's a look at what it looked like through the planting process.

after planting and before mulching

Plants used in the rain garden:
Iris virginica
Symphyotrichum novae-anglaie (Purple Dome) 
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ 
Solidago rugosa  ‘Fireworks’ 
Vernonia noveboracensis
Muhlenbergia capillaris  Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’
Chrysogonum virginianum
Vernonia lettermanii
Ruellia brittonia

And a bit more about the planning process was in

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Small meadows (or pocket meadows)

When I started thinking about a small front planting as a pocket meadow, it seemed apt -- not a big meadow planting, but an informal small meadow -- a relaxed perennial border, really.

But one of my colleagues, an excellent horticulturist, at the botanical garden where I work, is planting pocket meadows, too. 

She's planting them down the median strip in our Garden's entrance road (happily replacing a long row of Japanese Burning Bush).  She's planting them along the Arboretum Road.  And this one is at the fork in the road leading to the SCBG nursery area.

A mix of native perennials and grasses, this one is entrancing in early morning light.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Late October

It's a funny time in the garden. 

Cool nights and warm days (at least in the Southern U.S.) tempt us to try last plantings of mesclun mix and arugula, in open spots (without protection). 

I sowed beets and spinach on Sunday.  Hmm....  The calendar says we're nuts, but the weather is hopeful, and who knows -- maybe the first hard freeze won't be until mid-December.

But thinking about season extension and winter gardening in unheated hoop houses, well, I'm really feeling optimistic, if I can figure out an attractive, inexpensive, and easy way to create salad/greens gardens in our unheated teaching greenhouse.  We had great success last year.  (Currently I'm favoring willow plant boxes).

Uh, planting directly in bags of potting mix, although it works quite nicely, is not particularly attractive.  Grow bags are too colorful, actually, and black plastic bags, yuck. Black plastic pots aren't too bad, but they're not actually that good-looking.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

fall peas, monarchs, and a last hummingbird

sugar snap peas
My sugar snap peas are in flower now, and I'm hoping for at least a small harvest.  I was heartened to read that peas are hardy down to 20°F -- woo-hoo!

Even though we've flirted with frost in the mountains and the piedmont over the last weekend, I didn't see anything affected, even the eggplants in pots.  The tomatillos had already succumbed to drought and lack of sunlight in the main vegetable garden, so they weren't much of a barometer.

And remarkably, we're still seeing monarchs flying southward, and (probably) a final hummingbird today (sighted in the butterfly garden where I work).

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Garlic planted

After an inch and a half of rain overnight and this morning, it turned clear and cool by late afternoon.

Fortunately I'd prepared beds for garlic some time ago, so they were perfect for tucking in cloves of Thai Purple, Susanville, and Leningrad (all adaptable strains that should be good for the Piedmont). They came from impressive heads, grown by Hood River Garlic Farms -- much bigger than my harvested heads from last season!

I've grown Inchelium Red and German Porcelain successfully in the past, too, along with other cultivars, but it's always fun to try something new.  Thai Purple and Leningrad are stronger-flavored garlics, according to their labels.

It was a joy to tuck the cloves into still warm fluffy soil, nicely hydrated by the rain.  I had prepared the beds, I think, after pulling out potatoes and onions in early and mid- summer and spent tomatoes in late August.  Here was a post of similar ilk from last fall, preparing for spring planting  (I still have woodchuck issues, so I'm not planting greens in the satellite garden!)

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Native woodland garden plants

A beautiful fall day was ideal for collecting a group of native azaleas and rhododendrons (Rhododendron bakeri, R. prunifolium, R. calendulaceum, and R. catawbiense), along with some marginal wood ferns, Christmas ferns, and wild ginger (both Hexastylis arifolia and Asarum canadense).

native woodland plants, ready for planting
A mountain dog hobble and an attractive club moss rounded out the cache, purchased from a small native plant nursery in Fairview, NC (Mountain Mist) specializing in native azaleas and ferns.  It's largely a mail order operation, but we've bought plants directly by arrangement (such as today) and at the Botanical Gardens of Asheville's plant sales.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

BBC Gardening Illustrated podcasts

I'm a fan of BBC Gardening Illustrated's magazine, and their annual Vista series podcasts (and others in between) are fabulous, too.

The most recent featured a group of well-known garden designers/plants people talking about garden design, naturalistic gardening (as it's practiced in Europe - way ahead of what we're doing in North America), and the tension between adding plants as part of a design, knowing about their ecology and background, while faced with extreme weather fluctuations. 

Great Britain has experienced unusually cold winters the last few years, with exceptional drought during summer. (Sounds familiar to me!)

The last podcast was a thought-provoking discussion (listened to as I pulled the last of the still-green tomato vines out of the lower beds in the mountains.)  It's time for winter-hardy greens, and I moved around some collards, broccoli, and arugula, and wished I'd already sown some other greens, but the seeds are back down in the Piedmont.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Poison ivy

What's that attractive yellow across the ravine, I ask of my gardening companion?  His distance eyesight is much better than mine if I'm not wearing my glasses.

yellow leaves of poison ivy
He looks and says, poison ivy.  Hmm.  It has virtues in terms of fall color and wildlife, but as someone highly susceptible to its oils,  I'm hopelessly paranoid about being exposed via any means.

But, the view is pretty nevertheless! As long as Woody doesn't rub against it, and pass it on to me

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Supporting local farmers

Our Upstate Locavores group had a potluck dinner this evening.  Delicious food, as usual.

But a high point was a brief talk from a local farmer who raises grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, and free-range pork.  (I was supposed to talk about 'Five-season vegetable gardening' after him.)

It was a compelling call to think about how we need to support small-scale agriculture, in a vast county like the U.S., and one that's been dominated by big agriculture for decades.

It requires visiting farmers' markets, local food networks, and small scale groceries or coops as alternatives to our regular grocery stores.

I grow a lot of vegetables, and more than we can eat frequently, so I try to freeze whatever we can't eat. (Nothing normally goes to waste in our household!)

But I'm not a purist, although I think I'm pretty well-informed, and I hate to admit that I've still been buying commercial chicken (even knowing about many of its unsavory production aspects).  The cost point just seemed high.  But, Bud, the local farmer who spoke, was eloquent about how he raised his meat animals and how the commercial chickens are bred so that they can't actually walk very well on their own, because of the overly large breasts and spindly legs.  Yikes.

OK, I need to get my head around whether we still need to eat meat (maybe not), only eat organic meat (hmm, I'm not sure the supermarket organic chickens are raised so nicely, either), or do I just need to support local farmers for beef, chicken, pork, goat, farm-raised trout, etc., not to mention eggs from free-range chickens, too.

I'm frugal, and it's hard to pay three times the amount for a whole free-range chicken.  But my locavore friends assure me that these chickens are so much more tasty than supermarket.

The experiment awaits.  There's a 6 lb. frozen free-range chicken in the freezer.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fall harvest

Fall vegetable gardening is just as much about harvesting summer vegetables as it is harvesting cool-season greens.  In the dance of pulling out spent tomatoes, there's a 'does this green tomato look like it will color up?' and the peppers are still coming in.

The last eggplants are ripening, as long as the weather remains warm.

afternoon harvest
But, there's also parsley to harvest, which will continue through winter.

And all the kale, lettuce, and mustards that I harvested yesterday;  those plants will continue to grow!

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Morning glories

 An arbor or trellis covered with morning glories is an impressive sight. 

We've taken to planting them on the poles and wires in front and behind our mountain house, and cutting their bases just before they reach the transformer box.  Not elegant, but we get to enjoy them for quite awhile.  They mask the cable supports, too.


Friday, October 7, 2011

'Pocket' meadows

I'm hosting a garden club gathering tomorrow and will be talking about pocket meadows.

'pocket' meadow view
I love the idea.

A perennial border without the fuss! 

Three seasons of interest are part of the fun, and this one has, so far, been great.

A bit of necessary moving has occurred, as some plants became much bigger than expected, but that's normal.

What I appreciate is how nice it is to look at through the front door, and (from the other side) pulling into the driveway.

And probably more important is that it requires (so far) minimal maintenance (outside of editing back after the first hard frost).
'pocket meadow' close to sunset
My larger meadow, at home in the Piedmont, requires much more editing (eg. more work) that it doesn't always get.  It's been nagging at me to get going, actually, but a large garden always has elements to attend to!

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Planted, perennial onions and shallots

As the light was fading this evening, I managed to get the potato onions and red shallots in their prepared beds.  Although the weather has been glorious, I've been 'under the weather' the last few days, but thankfully I'm much better now!

Happily, I had prepared the beds in the satellite garden in late August (in terribly dry weather), getting them ready for woodchuck-proof plantings of regular onions, garlic, perennial leeks, shallots, and potato (multiplier) onions. 

So it was easy to tuck the bulbs into the ground, in nice compost-enriched beds. I watered them in well, and hope my garlic from Hood River Farm comes soon!

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Perennial onions and shallots

I've grown bunching onions in the past, and tried potato onions and shallots, too. But there's just something appealing about perennial vegetables that we normally grow seasonally (think perennial leeks, garlic chives, Welsh onions, etc.)

So the arrival of another batch of potato onions and French 'perennial' shallots from Southern Exposure Seed exchange sent me searching again for information about perennial onions. This article in Mother Earth News is informative and these folks at Mulberry Woods Nursery obviously know what they're writing about, and visit their sister site, Heirloom Onions for more information.

Apparently shallots and 'potato' or multiplier onions are derived from the same species cultivar, Allium cepa var aggregatum, but differ in the size and growing habit of the bulbs.

I'm excited about trying multipliers and perennial shallots again.  I obviously didn't realize how I was supposed to keep them going on my first try.  That won't happen again.
yellow potato onions and French 'perennial' shallots

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Fall weather

Even though we still need rain, the last few days have been glorious.  Highs in the low 70°F, and low in the 50°s.  The sky is clear blue, due to low humidity, and the stars are out at night.

There's no rain in the forecast, and some long-term projections have dry weather predicted through winter.  Yuck.  Gardeners (and plants) want more rain.

I just received packets of multiplier onions and perennial shallots from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  That's to add to my perennial leeks, and the garlic to come. 

It's a good thing that the resident woodchuck doesn't like alliums.  I'm totally frustrated trying to snag him/her, before the rest of my mustards are gone.  Maybe it's squirrels?

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

New England Asters

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is a stalwart for fall-flowering garden beds (and containers, too).

This one, in a pot next to the garden shed, is in full flower right now.  

There are many other asters that are great in fall (Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies' is my current favorite), but New England asters are tough and versatile, too.

New England Aster (cultivar forgotten!)

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Saturday, October 1, 2011


I've had clumps of chives for years, primarily for their spring flowers.  I'm sorry to say that I've never used any shoots before today, faced with four (very robust) clumps, needing to be weeded of Oxalis and Digitaria.

A google search on what to do with chives brought up the usual (chop the leaves up as garnish for baked potatoes, soups, etc.)

But I have LOTS of chive leaves.  So I searched for chive pesto. Hooray, chives with parsley or cilantro (in equal quantities) with garlic and nuts (almonds and pine nuts were listed).

So I harvested a good size bunch (uh, just a drop in the proverbial bucket), and added them to cornbread and a pot of beans (the target for dinner tonight).

Obviously, I need to start making pesto!

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