Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

We traveled during (academic year) winter break for decades, so have often been far from home on New Year's Eve.

It's nice to be in the mountains of NC again this year, where walks along the French Broad River bring wonderful views.  We'll be traveling this year in mid-winter, which brings a different rhythm to our year.  When we get back, there may be early signs of spring...

Happy New Year!  Wishing for peace and good energy for all in the coming year, with much time outside in the natural world as well as embracing the company of friends and family.

I've written many posts over the years about holidays, most about Christmas and New Year's, but a sprinkling of others.  Facebook reminded me today of our trip to Argentina two years ago, with a wonderful photo (of me) in front of a Patagonia lake on the Ruta de Sieta Lagos, so maybe that's why I'm thinking a bit more about this.

A search for "holidays" on my blog brought up this collection of reflections.  It was interesting to read thoughts and remembrances from those previous times, all heart-felt, I realize.  A good way to begin a new year.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A dandelion flower

Amazingly, outside on the deck at lunch, on a very warm late-December day, I looked down, and saw a dandelion in flower.

It had become established in the mulch below the lower raised bed (and I hadn't rooted it out yet).

We were close to a record high on Christmas this year in Asheville, and the warmth has continued.

Cooler temperatures are ahead for the next couple of days, but 2016 is definitely on track for a warmest year record here, too.

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Monday, December 26, 2016


I marked Christmas via a direct Facebook post, remembering visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a couple of years ago.  It was a wonderful place, and I was fortunate to spend several days there, staying in the interior of the old city.  It was a magical place.

I didn't have many blog posts (traveling at the time with a old iPad and equally elderly digital camera), but here are few of them.

I was particularly struck by the pilgrimage way that went through Rothenburg, and all the way to Santiago de Compostela.  I was on a bit of a pilgrimage, I thought, at the time, moving towards something past my paid work life, rather unknown, it seemed to me at the time.

Eddying along, I'm continuing to teach about gardening (all sorts of topics) as a volunteer and volunteering in a community garden, and being engaged even more around food and social justice issues.

I'm privileged to live in a special place, with preserved places (although sometimes for a price).

As passholders, we're able to see these beautiful views.

Biltmore Estate, December, 2016

We'd gone through the house during the day.  Quite nice.  But it's the preserved views and wonderful landscapes that make Biltmore special, in my opinion.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Winter Solstice

So glad to welcome the Solstice and longer days ahead.

I'm not one that celebrates the darkness, cocooning, or the quiet times in the garden. Nor do I love hot summer days.

But light is always welcome, and I'm grateful to live in a part of the world that experiences only a bit less than 10 hours of daylight in our shortest days --from mid-December to mid-January.

Hooray for longer days to come.

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Moon rising

The moon was above the horizon this evening at dusk, rising above the ravine forest behind the house.  It won't be full for a couple of days, but it was luminous tonight.

A couple of photos, one from my venerable Nikon D100, which does a better job focusing on the moon (because of the excellent lens).

And one from my iPhone, which captures the scene better, but doesn't capture the moon quite as well!

Both have been digitally processed, of course....via Lightroom and Photoshop.

I hope it will be clear on Tuesday -- it should be a beautiful December moon.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Growing food

I was at an annual potluck this evening for the Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council.  It's a new group for me, although I've tried to learn more about food systems, food security initiatives, etc. in my town of Asheville and county of Buncombe, as well as the Southeast, over the last couple of decades.

I've come home thinking a bit more about what it actually takes to grow food, something I think quite a bit about, actually. (Many of the folks brought commercially grown food for the potluck, not home-grown, as it turned out), although much of it was home-prepared.

It's fun to grow your own veggies (and fruit, too), but it can be really hard work on a community or market gardening scale.  And it's not without effort in my small-scale raised beds, either.

I covered my beets, chard, and spinach this afternoon, with perforated plastic and agrofabric.

Hard to know what the experiment of covering chard, spinach, and beets with floating covers might be!  It's going to be about 18°F overnight.

I'm hoping they'll pull through, but also would really enjoy eating some broccoli or Brussels sprouts from the market, truth be told.

I have a wonderful large bag of spinach, though, harvested from the lower beds.  It's the nicest looking spinach I've grown.  We'll enjoy the spinach over the next day or two!

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Broomsedge field

Outside the kitchen windows, we can see beyond the ravine forest, to a field filled with broomsedge. Part of a foreclosed property scooped up by an investment company, now owned by Duke Energy (they were hoping to put a sub-station there), it's now simply a spot recovering from clearing (again).

This was part of an urban renewal site, cleared of houses in the mid-60's, I guess; it was still "empty" space when we bought our house here in 2008.  Then, there was talk of mixed-development housing from a company that had quietly bought up most of the small and large plots that had been cleared, and had big dreams, but wasn't able to come up with the federal matching grants and bank funding needed (that was in times of economic downturn), and finally the property was sold at auction for just over $1 million to the investment company.  Duke bought the entire 17 acre plus conglomeration for ~$5.5 million during late recession recovery.  This sounds like an extreme bargain in booming Asheville today.

We benefit from a lovely ravine forest close to downtown, at least for now, buffered by our property and slope requirements, but we keep a wary eye on the future.  What will happen to this space that's remained vacant for so long?  It's smack up to Highway 240, and future changes to I-26 and bridge, so not as desirable as it otherwise would be, close to downtown.

This morning, though, I enjoyed the view of the lovely field in the distance.

view from the far edge of the kitchen

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A lovely afternoon

Amid the smoke for the last weeks, and the first frosts, and hoping for rain, which we finally got overnight and this morning (about a half-inch), it was unexpected to have a lovely clear afternoon.

It was amazingly mild for a late November afternoon.  It was my gardening companion's birthday, and after he'd gone on a welcome mid-day bike ride up Town Mountain, all of us (including Woody) headed to Biltmore Estate, and a walking loop from the Gardener's Shop down and around Bass Pond.  Woody knows that there are biscuits to be had at the end!

Nothing not to like about an excursion to a wonderful place on a beautiful day.  I'm thankful for that to be an opportunity in my life.

Bass Lake view from the bridge

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Last leaves

The cold temperatures (down into the mid-20° F range) have triggered, finally, abscission layers in the last leaves. 

The sugar maple leaves were finally falling in the ravine behind our house.

Coming home after Thanksgiving away, a walk around the neighborhood found the venerable ginkgo on Cumberland shedding leaves as we walked by -- not in the all-at-once mode that's normal, but falling in a way that would have made a perfect video, if I'd had my phone in my pocket.

There was a golden carpet, mixed with green, below this huge old tree.  Beautiful.

Some of the red Japanese maples seem to be the last hold-out.  They're beautifully crimson, but haven't yet dropped their leaves, perhaps being from a colder climate in Asia, genetically-speaking.

Of course, all of the frost-intolerant plants have been zapped, but the greens in my vegetable beds are looking good.  And I'm hoping that the predicted soaking rains will come!

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Biltmore hay field

Mist cloaked the end of one of the hay fields at Biltmore on a recent morning visit. 

The iPhone's camera captured the light in an interesting way;  the image became more impressionistic than realistic.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Southside Community Garden

I've been volunteering at the Southside Community Garden for the last growing season. It's a young community vegetable garden, finishing its second year.

It's on the playground site of what used to be an black elementary school (in segregated Asheville), now turned into a vibrant community center in a place that has a rich history. It's a neighborhood faced with challenges, with gentrification edging in, along with homes of long standing and apartments subsidized by the Housing Authority of Asheville.

We'd harvested about 750 pounds of produce, when I tallied amounts last month, with more winter greens to come, most all of the harvests going to the Kitchen Ready's Southside Kitchen, which serves meals free of charge and by donation four days a week, as part of a training program for culinary students in need of career options. Excess produce has gone to local homeless shelters and the YMCA's Healthy Living Pantry.

It's a good project.

Please join me as you're able in supporting a SeedMoney campaign for the Southside Community Garden. We're eligible for a matching grant as part of this, too, but all donations are tax-deductible.…/…/southside-community-garden

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

A winter squash

A winter squash from Southside Garden
I'm heartsick about the election, but I've realized that I can't turn my blog into a political rant, nor make my FB posts about that either.  That's crazy-making for me.

It's enough to comment, contribute, and join organizations that I haven't been a part of before. And step up and be present where I can, and continue to do good work.

Teaching a class yesterday about "creative use of color and texture in the garden" seemed frivolous, as I was preparing for it, but turned out to be a lovely class, and encouraging to prepare.

This winter squash, a "leftover" from our final harvesting of warm season crops, seems to me to symbolize where I am. It was an OK squash, quite stringy, and not particularly flavorful.  It was probably a result of the mixed squash plantings (lots of variation there!)

But I'm hopeful for more squash in the future, preparing for the first freeze (I pulled up the final bean vines and eggplants today in my own small garden), and we'll see how the greens fare, with a drop into the mid-20°F.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Fall ginkgo

This is an interesting fall, as the leaves are holding much longer than usual, probably because of droughty conditions.

Ginkgos usually turn yellow fairly uniformly, then drop all of their leaves at once.

Not this year.  Around town, there are some that already dropped their leaves and some that are still green. Our small tree in front, well, it's been dropping leaves sporadically for weeks.

But now, the remaining leaves are turning yellow, so it won't be long until a golden carpet of leaves appears.

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Whole grain digestive "biscuits"

I can't believe I'm actually posting a recipe on a gardening blog that doesn't involve vegetables that I grew or harvested, but in a food/vegetable geek way, it makes sense, I guess.

A friend's question about "hard" flour had me answering about hard red (winter) wheat vs. soft spring wheat. And reading Dan Barber's The Third Plate recently also had me thinking about flavors and qualities of wheat, along with the flavors and quality of a variety of vegetables, too.  It's all about the selections and growing conditions -- the epiphany is that it's not just true of "fresh" food.  It's also true of our staples, such as flour, corn, eggs, etc.

Of course, this is a first world perspective, from an ability to grow excellent vegetables myself, and buy high-quality ingredients -- but it's also about paying attention to the flavor, too.

I'll never forget the amazing array of fresh vegetables in the markets in Vietnam, for example, and the landscapes pocketed with remarkabe vegetable gardens. They're all over the world. Why not more here in America?
Market in Hoi An, Vietnam
Garden in local Vietnamese village, near Hoi An
When I moved to the Southern US over 3 decades ago, there were few specialty breads available aside from Arnold's Wheatberry in local supermarkets.

It's decent, and I think it may still be available, but having grown up interested in baking, I started making my own whole-grain bread following Martha Rose Shulman's multi-grain loaves recipe and never went back to store-bought (aside from a diversion into Father Sam's Pita Bread, mail-ordered, but that's another story).

Today, I can buy absolutely delicious bread from artisan bakers here in my mountain town.  But for a price.  A loaf is $6-7.50.  I can buy 5 lbs. of Bob's Red Mill Organic Stone Ground Flour for $7.18 or a similar amount of King Arthur's Flour for $4.95.

Five pounds of flour makes a lot of bread, muffins, and biscuits.

I guess it's telling that the results of a search for "bread" in my blog posts brings up a lot of things, but this was the first image that popped up. Most of my loaves are better-looking, but not accompanied by persimmons!

homemade bread and persimmons from my Piedmont garden
My recent diversion into a wholemeal digestive biscuit, modeled after British ones, but inspired by a homemade graham cracker recipe that I saw recently, came to this approximation.  I thought they were a bit doughy, but not bad, when twice baked.     

1 1/2 cups of Bob's Red Mill Wholewheat Flour
1/2 of oat meal, ground fine
2 T. Sweetener (white or brown sugar, Splenda, or Stevia)
1/2 tsp salt.
1/2-1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup walnut oil (or other fat)
1 egg

Mix it all together.

Then I added toasted chopped walnuts and Zante currants, but this could be altered (almonds or pecans would be great) or left out entirely.

I rolled the dough into marble-sized balls, then flattened them with the end of a glass as thin as I could.

I baked them at 350° F for 15-20 minutes.  I rebaked them later (biscotti-like) for 10 minutes at 300°F to crisp them (the currants added moisture).  Without currants, you probably wouldn't need to rebake.

Eaten with ricotta honey spread, they were both tasty and unusual, at least in a world of either sweet cookies or savory crackers!

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A full moon

I've done many full moon posts over the years.

Tonight's full moon is welcome.  And full of hope.

I'm remembering a Hoi An, Vietnam celebration tonight.

Hoi An Full Moon nights

We were lucky enough to bumble on a Full Moon night in Hoi An. They don't take place literally on the Full Moon (like we thought) but the 14th day of the lunar month (I think I'm remembering that right).

 My gardening companion was a bit under the weather, so I ventured forth.

It was quite wonderful, with paper lanterns (similar to Mexican and Southwestern US luminaries) launched to float on the water.

Locals and tourists alike were there -- and there were many local folks enjoying the rituals. Quite nice.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Growing vegetables, cooking vegetables, and supporting local farms

After waking up, after a difficult outcome to an election that I'd participated in as a campaign worker (for the first time in my life, for numerous shifts), I found solace in gardening.

First, I volunteer in a local community vegetable garden, in a "food desert" in a historically black part of Asheville not more than a mile from where I live (in the oldest neighborhood in Asheville, now upscale.)

I'm privileged, to be sure. We have a lovely small house, surrounded now by nice gardens and a restored woodland, thanks to our efforts.

But the first thing I did this morning was to head over to the Southside Garden to harvest -- we're at the tail end of the harvest, but still, now almost all of the produce goes to the Kitchen Ready Southside Kitchen, which serves lunches free of charge and by donation to the community.

Check.  I felt better.

This afternoon, I did a volunteer landscape consultation on behalf of NC Arboretum (the young woman whose landscape I visited had taken a class that I taught there).

Check. I felt better again.

This evening, I went to a benefit dinner for the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), sponsored by a wonderfully gifted local chef, Katie Button from Curate and Nightbell.

Check. Feeling better again.

I feel the power of community, giving back, and coming together tonight.

part of my small-scale vegetable garden, a couple of years ago
ASAP is all about supporting local food and local (small) agriculture -- they've done a brilliant job of it, promoting WNC local farmers (post-tobacco) for over 20+ years.  Our local chefs support them, too.

But I'm also mindful about our food deserts, and where folks have access to fresh food (hmm, it's sometimes hard work growing and harvesting veggies, not on my small scale, but on the market gardening scale of Southside).

It's a work in progress, trying to engage the community in growing and harvesting vegetables, and expanding vegetable growing beyond our community garden.

I sat next to a fellow at the the dinner tonight who described flying into Nagosaka, Japan, and looking down at small vegetable gardens surrounding every (small) house. 

What a wonderful vision!  We have so much space in this country that we can be growing fresh vegetables, rather than lawn. 

I don't think urban agriculture/small gardens/ etc. are some total answer to big ag, but they are a way for many of us to have fresh vegetable on relatively small spaces, in a Victory Gardening sort of way.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

A beautiful fall

In a difficult election season, where I can only keep going out to get out the vote, by canvassing, etc., to keep my spirits up, there's always the garden and nature.

Even with droughty conditions, we've had lovely reds and yellows this year, along with drab tones of drying leaves, prior to dropping. Carpets of red maple leaves line the space between the road and school, where I was poll greeting this week.

On walks through the neighborhood, leaves are everywhere.

The ginkgo in front is lovely, with the first leaves starting to fall.  They're huge.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A luminous hickory

The fall color has been sporadic this year.  The reds of the dogwoods and maples have been encouraged by the warm temperatures and sunny weather post a cold snap, despite the dry conditions.

The yellows have been more spotty, depending on the species.

The hickory towards the ravine forest has been lovely.

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Remembering an early snow (and fall greens)

It's hard to imagine in this warm, dry fall that two years ago, on Halloween night, we had an early snow.

It was lovely, to be sure, although unexpected.

This year, faced with increasing drought, and extended warmth, it seems so different.  I don't even want to look at the U.S. Climatic Center's forecast -- I don't think it's good in terms of rain or temperature.

My less-experienced gardening friends are musing about whether they should transplant shrubs, perennials, or sow winter veggies seeds, lulled by the warmth, and the extended season.

It's scary.

Southside Community Garden at the Edington Center, Asheville, NC
But my greens in the raised beds are flourishing, even with low light, and the community garden where I volunteer is filled with winter greens.

part of last Wednesday's harvest

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Monday, October 24, 2016

A curious mushroom

Watering seems to have become a normal activity this year, even as temperatures drop.  But I was surprised, even though I WAS watering, to see these mushrooms pop up from the mulch, adjacent to my bean trellises.

Quite curious, although I'm sure mushroom folks will recognize them immediately!

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fall color

Fall color in the Eastern U.S. is a touchstone of seasonal change. We wait, we watch, and we wonder if it will be a good fall color year.

About a month ago, I posted about some of the factors determining fall color.

Since then, it's continued to be very dry, in the mountains of Western North Carolina --we're actually in severe drought status after only an inch of rain since Sept. 1.

But nevertheless, at higher elevations today, on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain, the fall color was spectacular.  We'd had an email suggesting that this was an outstanding year, and it didn't disappoint.

Here were my buddies admiring the amazing view!

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

A luminous Japanese maple

Heading off on an after-dinner walk, I noticed our neighbors' Japanese maple has turned a wonderfully brilliant red.

I guess the 40° F-ish lows over the last few nights triggered anthocyanin production, as it certainly wasn't so brilliant in the last few days.

A vibrant Japanese maple

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Friday, October 14, 2016

An amazing harvest, so for!

I've been a volunteer at the Southside Community Garden since last spring.  It's been a great experience, although definitely not my sort of small-scale intensive veggie gardening.

Tabulating the harvest so far, we had almost 800 lbs of vegetables, from spring to fall.


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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Aromatic aster

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium (Aromatic aster) is a great late-fall flowering plant. It's been a great addition to the pocket meadow, and is looking particularly good this year.

Aromatic aster with Rudbeckia

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Southside Community Garden workday

Saturday, Oct. 8, was a special workday at Southside Community Garden, with a focus on putting in drip irrigation and adding a hoophouse for season extension.  We also planted garlic, spread wood chips (courtesy of the local tree trimmers), and enjoyed a cool overcast day in the garden.

Here's a link to an album with some of my favorite images.

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

A lovely work day at a local community garden

There will be more photos linked to this, I'm sure, as soon as I can figure out a way to post multiple images in an album on FB, but there were plantings of garlic, establishment of drip irrigation, and the raising of a hoop house today, all thanks to volunteer efforts.

Mom and son planting garlic

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Growing your own vegetables and abundant food

I live in a country with abundant food, to be sure.

We can buy practically anything that we want to eat, of course, if we have the $$.

And, at least in my food-centric and food-aware community, our regional and local food pantries have plenty of food of various quality, if you have need and can get to the distribution centers, whether they're non-profit fresh food distributors like the YMCA's Healthy Living food pantry and mobile distribution, or directly from Manna (our major regional food bank distributor). 

I've been thinking about this quite a bit over the last 6 months, as I've volunteered at a community garden in the Southside of Asheville, a low-wealth community, but one with resilience and promise.

Does a community garden make a difference?  Well, I don't really know.  I hope so!

The non-profit organization that loosely oversees the community garden received a Kresge planning grant last April as part of their FreshLo grant initiative -- a new one, using food, nutrition, arts, and healthy living to promote community.

I've marvelled at how productive this garden is, in its second season.  Scary, really, as we can barely keep harvesting and maintaining the garden with the ~ 6 or so regular volunteers (my friend and I are newbies this season).

But the harvest keeps going into the Southside Kitchen, which serves free/by donation meals 4 times a week, to large groups.

But I'm also mindful that it's hard work harvesting in a production garden, unlike my own small raised garden space (we're hard-pressed to eat everything that it produces, truth be told).

Snipping lettuce mix from long rows, cutting abundant Swiss chard, harvesting okra, etc. has both my hands and hips complaining.  This is not easy work.

Nor will building the hoop house on Saturday, I think.  Picking up supplies today (lots of 2X4's) was heavy work for me, I'm afraid.  Geez, I need to get back to lifting weights, I guess.

But, my thoughts this evening are really around Big Food, as Michael Pollan writes about today in the NYT, vs Small Food, which is the emerging local farms/local growing movement, which is still small, but growing.

These are thoughts which will continue to percolate.

Yes, I can buy a beautiful red bell pepper for $2 at my local supermarket from Mexico (and can't grow anything that looks even close to it, in my warm summer climate), although I can grow nice poblanos, pimentos, etc.  Should I not buy it?

I have a personal initiative about always eating from my garden first, before buying other vegetables, but onions, garlic, mushrooms, and peppers, are frequently extra additions.  Add to that potatoes, rice, wheat flour, etc.

I ground wheat berries into flour recently for some quite delicious muffins, but I didn't grow the wheat -- I wouldn't have had the space.

All musings, to be sure.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Eggplants in containers

This has been a great eggplant year. I like to grow them in containers, as  they're beautiful plants. They're not always lovely, however, because of flea beetles. But this year was a happy exception.

I'm continuing to harvest lots of Ping Tung eggplants, along with more of the two Italian-types, which had slowed flowering and fruiting in the heat and drought of late summer.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Montford Bridge sunset

Walking downtown tonight to the library, for a program around waterfalls and photography, the sunset was stunning.

Sunset from the Montford Ave. bridge
Coming home, the view of the Basilica was equally lovely, although the iPhone photo doesn't do it justice!

Basilica at dusk

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Fall color to come

Nudged by a email back and forth from our neighborhood newsletter editor - she'd complimented me on a previous article, after an unrelated wreath image ask -- I poked around some fall gardening and fall color posts.

Here's a revised version of an older post -- updated to our warm and dry fall so far.

We live in a region of fall color. 

 Reddening leaves of dogwood (Cornus florida) and sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) often lead the way, although droughty conditions (not uncommon) may also encourage early leaf color in maples, probably as leaves have shut down production of chlorophyll early this year. My sister (then living in Central Texas) sent me an e-mail a number of years ago, asking about what really triggered the change in color in leaves - temperature, day length, moisture, or a combination. Her dog park group wanted to know!

Well, what are sisters for, after all, especially if she's a botanist and garden educator (I’m now a volunteer one)?  I had some fun reviewing the details and look forward to seeing how it will play out this season, with the warm and dry conditions forecast for this fall.

Basically, our fall colors in the Eastern U.S. are revealed as chlorophyll production slows down, cued by the shortening days and lengthening nights. The interplay of pigments in leaves determines the fall colors of different species, with the temperature and moisture determining color intensities. As the chlorophyll (which provides the overriding green color of leaves) breaks down, the other pigments in the leaves become evident. The carotenoids produce the yellow and oranges and anthocyanins produce the purple and reds. Anthocyanins are actively produced as a reaction between sugars and proteins - in the watery vacuoles of leaf cells, and their colors are influenced by acidity. They start showing up as the chlorophyll breaks down, and corky deposits start blocking the downward flow of sugars between leaves and stems.

Different trees have different combinations of the basic pigments, and here in Eastern North America, we have the largest diversity of species of trees that exhibit fall color, so many of our natives are prized in Europe for fall color -- our sweet gums and tulip poplars for example.

Some of the trees that are shades of oranges, reds, and purples include the red, white, and scarlet oaks, persimmon, sassafras, dogwood, sweet gum, as well as the maples. Hickories, river birch, redbud, tulip poplar, and sycamore turn yellow and gold, although the last two frequently turn brown and drop leaves early in droughty years like this one.

Beech leaves also accumulate tannin, adding a bronze color to the underlying yellows. The fall weather plays a key factor in whether it's a particularly good year for color, especially in the reds and purples. Day and night temperature and general moisture levels are important. Warm sunny days (with lots of sugar production) with cool crisp nights produce the best reddish and purple colors – from the anthocyanin pigments - at the same time chlorophyll production is declining. These are the “best” fall color years for bright red and orange hues.

Yellows are fairly consistent from year to year, since the carotenoids aren’t so affected by weather variations. Overly dry weather will produce more brownish leaves and early leaf drop, with washed-out colors in general.

But, some of our non-natives (this ginkgo, for example) have beautiful fall color, too.
This one was at the botanical garden (South Carolina Botanical Garden) where I used to work.

So no two falls are alike!

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Year-round vegetable gardening

I've done many programs over the years about vegetable gardening. My early ones focused on creative and attractive kitchen gardens.  Then, a bit more about productive vegetable gardens in the recession years.

But I've moved from three-season to year-round vegetable gardening in some of my programs, as I just think it's so compelling, even for small-scale vegetable gardeners like myself.

Wire cloches (ready for plastic, when needed)
I'm not truly interested in feeding our 2-person household from our veggie garden throughout the year, but it really comes pretty darn close, when I freeze tomatoes, tomatillos, squash, kale and beans from the summer garden to eat in winter, not to mention all of the greens we eat from the fall and spring garden.

So, tomorrow's program is about year-round vegetable gardening.  It's SO possible here where I live in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

I live in the Asheville basin, near to downtown Asheville, so we're at 2000 ft., now USDA zone 7a.  My raised beds are stone and we're next to a brick apartment;  there's a heat-reflecting effect right there.  We have almost 10 hours of sunlight year-round, except for the few weeks around the winter solstice.  So, we can grow a lot of cold-hardy vegetables, depending on the year and the circumstances of freezes and frosts, and whether there's a bit of winter protection from cloches or hoops, covered by plastic or row covers.

We've had hard freezes the last few winters. Two years ago was the coldest winter for over 20 years.  Not good for overwintering hardy veggies, at least unprotected ones.

This year, I'll be working with wire cloches and hoops, which I'll cover with perforated plastic as a minimal cover.  They'll be attractive, I hope (my veggie beds are front row and center in our landscape).  We'll see!

Hoops ready for plastic, too!

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

A lovely conifer assortment

A transformed lower bed is now full of dwarf conifers.

These and a number of others are now gracing a bed that's been problematic.  Full hot sun in the afternoon.  Shady in the morning. Hot in summer, cool in winter.  Etc.

But, we think the conifers and their companions (not the kale -- it went into my veggie beds) will do well.

We'll see.  More photos to come.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A pollen-collecting bee

Taking a photo of a collection of dwarf conifers, snagged for a new planting (in a very difficult spot), I saw these bees visiting the Vernonia.  

I've seen them before, but they're definitely unusual, with their striking pollen baskets.

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

More gardening inspiration at Monticello

The Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello was an amazing event--well-planned and nicely-executed.  It was an impressive array of tasting events (for the fresh fruits and veggies) from one of the major sponsors, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange-- I've been a fan of for years.

Lots of great speakers, the vendors and tasting events were amazing, and no, I'm not being paid for comments. I've had a great time, even as I'm looking forward to heading home tomorrow.

I had an absolutely great time during my two days, immersed in Jefferson's gardening as interpreted through past and present horticulturist , and then surrounded by the local food scene with the vendors, and then all of the programs. 

If I lived in Charlottesville, I'd be a passholder, for sure, just to visit the gardens frequently, as a MG volunteer said that she did.

A wonderful excursion, to be sure.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Inspiration at Monticello

Nothing NOT to like about a day spent at Monticello. 

I visited the vegetable garden in the company of former Director of Grounds Peter Hatch (in a morning session) and current head vegetable gardener Pat Brodowski (in the late afternoon session), with a walk through the flower gardens with its manager Debbie Donley and a tour of the house in mid-day.

It's remarkable to think about how truly experimental Thomas Jefferson was, as a gardener and horticulturist (not to mention all of his other contributions).

His record-keeping abilities are legendary.

A very brief visit to the visitor exhibits after lunch had me equally inspired; Jefferson believed in liberty, justice, and the merits of a well-educated population, as a means to a free society.

This was accompanied by very sophisticated multi-media interpretive visuals, complete with touch-screen vignettes. Very nice, and effective -- much of my career was spent (trying) to create interpretation that worked (not just that told you or wrote stuff that you read), so I appreciated that! 

It was well-done.

Back for another day tomorrow -- the public day of the Heritage Harvest Festival. I'll be bringing more water, as it's been HOT.  I'm a southern gardener, so I'm used to it, but geez, 93°F+ in September?

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

At Monticello

I'm in Charlottesville, ready for the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello tomorrow and Saturday.

I've signed up for workshops all day tomorrow, along with more on the public day on Saturday, so I'm psyched. 

A couple staying at my B&B had visited Monticello today -- and noticed the tents going up, etc. Oh, the festival is here, my fellow guests and I said, over an rather nice social hour promoted by our B&B (Dinsmore House). The wife of the couple mentioned above shared that she'd never seen melons growing before -- hooray, I thought.  Another person who might be actually thinking about where their foods come from!
A web photo, snatched from the ether, thanks to whomever took it!
Thomas Jefferson is a gardening icon, I think, at least in the vegetable gardening world of the Eastern U.S. 

He pushed the envelope in the 18th century, trying new vegetables and experimenting.

So I'm so excited to be visiting his restored vegetable and fruit gardens, again, in the company of experts, in the programs that I've signed up for.  He appreciated our native plants, too -- that should be an interesting program as well.

Jefferson loved vegetables, which I totally understand.

No, I don't want to eat green beans every day for weeks on end, but fresh green beans and eggplant from the garden (well, I'm happy to have left more for my hubby to eat with pasta and fresh tomato sauce while I'm away).

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Monday, September 5, 2016

Another sunset at the Grove Park Inn

We're so fortunate to be close to the Grove Park Inn. About 2 miles away, it's a favorite walking loop of mine, starting at Charlotte St. Park, walking up and around.

This evening, we drove a short jaunt farther, and walked up to the Inn and back, enjoying the sunset views.

Woody, as usual, passed quite handily as being within the "40 lb" category that was permitted under the last "rules" that I read! Hmm...


Sunday, September 4, 2016

September sunset at Beaver Lake


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Blogging and posting (and the Garden Bloggers Fling)

I've been a devoted blogger since 2007 (edging now towards 1800 posts).  The medium suits me.  I like to write long paragraphs, craft sentences every once in awhile, and think about what I'd like to reflect on, and hopefully have a decent photograph, or two.

Reviewing just now a search on front raised beds brought so many great images and reflections that promoted memories, to print out ahead of a gathering at the house next week around four-season vegetable gardening.

My blog is a garden/nature journal, after all.  It's just for me, without any other purpose, I guess.

But it's brought great community with fellow garden bloggers (woo, hoo, and yay,  Garden Blogger Flings!)

Even though most of us (Fling bloggers) communicate now as friends on Facebook (that's my experience), I so value the connections and friendships that I've made through the Fling --

Hooray for blogging as a medium, even if it seems LONG-WINDED in a Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook social media age.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Sunflowers at Biltmore

The sunflower plantings along the French Broad River at Biltmore have become a regular favorite of visitors and passholders alike.

This year, these smaller sunflowers provided a wonderful backdrop for a photo-op (for Woody and me).

We'd walked with our fellow pack member (my gardening companion) through the walled garden and around Bass Lake, but needed to stop and appreciate the sunflowers, too.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Another front meadow view

Our pocket meadow in front remains a joy. 

The woodchuck who has munched on the sunflowers in back and on the sides of the house (not to mention the last of the kale and parsley in the vegetable beds this afternoon!) hasn't made any inroads on the tough native perennials in the pocket meadow up front.

Leaving for a special dinner this evening (32nd anniversary), it was lovely to see our low-maintenance meadow in front.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pocket meadow view

The mix of native perennials in the pocket meadow is particularly nice this year. Abundant rain over the last month suited Joe-Pye, Rudbeckia, and Solidago, as well as the (non-native) annual sunflowers along the street.  The Vernonia is covered with small bees collecting pollen at the moment!

It's a lovely view out the front door.

(With apologies for the blurry iPhone photos!)

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Monday, August 22, 2016

More clean-up and planting

The squash vines, on further examination, were fraught with powdery mildew, so they've been edited, and I've propped up a couple of mid-summer transplant tomatoes (favorite San Marzanos grown from seed) over the trellises, with hopes of some late fruits.  There are a lot of set ones, so I'm hopeful.

I've sown flats of mesclun, spinach, and argula, along with kale, poked in some sugar snap peas, and have beet seeds soaking overnight.  There's just enough space to sow some beets and turnips tomorrow.
seeds for fall plantings
The tomatillos in the lower bed are doing well, so they'll stay, but I pulled a scrawny bean vine, left the Mountain Pride tomato (looks great, but doesn't get enough sun).  Perhaps now in fall, the late afternoon and early morning light will grow some carrots?  I'll sow some tomorrow and see.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Gettting ready for fall

Vegetable garden change-outs are always a bit about promise and hope.  Pulling out spent squash vines, pruning wilt-fraught tomato bits, removing beans past their prime:  all are part of getting ready for fall.

I'll be sowing sugar snap peas on the trellises (I'm always hopeful of a fall crop) and sowing beets, spinach, lettuce, and kale over the coming week.  I'm leaving one of the beans for now, along with the butternut squash, and cherry tomatoes, as all are still producing and seem disease-free.

If I find some of the sprouting broccoli starts (new last spring from Bonnie), I'll put those in too.

My tomatillo plant in the lower bed is producing an abundance of fruits, and maybe the late-grown and transplanted peppers will mature in time for some homegrown salsa.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Thank you, gardening friends!

I have just had the VERY happy experience of returning to our garden this weekend to something quite nice.  I had really fretted and worried about leaving for almost three weeks in mid-summer!  
pocket meadow
It was not a good time to leave, although I'd "battened down" the garden by pruning, harvesting all ripening veggies, and adding some water-absorbent crystals to the soil.

I was just hopeful that all of the plants would survive, much less flourish.

But, Asheville has had plenty of rain, thank goodness, an unexpected change from the hot and dry conditions in July.  So the entire garden is lovely and green, after almost three weeks away. 

vegetable garden in front

And thanks to our neighbors and other gardening friends, somehow they collectively managed to diligently harvest beans, eggplant, tomatoes, and squash while I was gone (a daily routine for me), so I didn't return to a mess of overgrown veggies (aside from a few errant squash and beans). Bliss. Just a beautiful array of beans and a few tomatoes to harvest -- how wonderful is that?

Not sure who were the main harvesters yet (I sent out "please help yourself" notices to at least 7 folks), but I am so glad that they (whomever the mix) were able to enjoy the vegetables! 

And the plants still all look great. I had been steeling myself for something dire!

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