Yard Work and Gardening In February

February is promising to be a month of fickle weather. Last weekend, was jacket-weather so we did some vine trimming along a fence line. We are heading into another Arctic blast now, though, with probable snow later today. That means the rest of the Winter trimming will have to wait.

We are in the process of dropping a very large deciduous tree that is only 10 feet from the house. I transplanted that tree from the woods 25 years ago and now it’s a threatening behemoth so it must go. We devised a plan and are cutting the large top branches first. Two of the branches overhang the house roof but being diehard do-it-yourself types, we have teamed up with reliable roping, webbing, a come-along, and the tractor to pull the branches as we cut.

Once the tree has been dropped, it won’t be long before it’s time to trim the shrubbery in the front and trim some of the fruit trees. Until we can do the trimming, I have a greenhouse that needs to be cleaned and prepped for my late-Winter seed-sowing.

Empty GreenhouseThe 2015 Seed List was just posted this morning and it includes new seeds as well as many of the saved seeds we have. Our seeds have come from seed companies, family members, seed trades, and friends nearby and from afar. We keep viable seeds for the vegetables, herbs, and flowers we like to grow. We also retain some seeds from veggies we may choose not to grow. In all, there are now 5 boxes of viable seed packets and envelopes in our seed collection.

We purchased some new open-pollinated seed to try this year: 12 veggie varieties and 6 flower varieties. Here are the new seeds by category:

  • Beet:  Lutz Salad Leaf Beet, Cylindra
  • Carrot: Muscade
  • Cucumber: Muncher
  • Eggplant: Fengyuan Purple, Ping Tung
  • Leek: Autumn Giant
  • Lettuce: Chatwick’s Rodan, Big Boston
  • Pea: Carouby De Maussane Snow Pea
  • Peppers:  Etuida, Lemon Drop (mild hot)
  • Flowers: Red Cherry Marigold, Italian White Sunflower, Crimson Queen Sunflower, Rustic Color Mix Rudbeckia, Arika Sunflower, Cupcake Mix Zinnia

Last year was fantastic for sweet peppers and some other veggies. Our tomatoes were late to arrive but when they did, we had buckets filled with tomatoes to eat and can for sauces. But our tomato plants were as ugly as can be — the leaves on most tomato plants turned brown so we figured that we may have a virus.  We have cleared all garden debris out and then burned the debris. We will spray our tomato cages with a bleach and water solution this Spring, too. We are erring on the side of caution and are not planting any tomato or potato crops in our gardens this year — it’s hard to imagine this! We are planning to dig 5 new spots in a different area for just 5 tomato plants, though — hoping to have homegrown, fresh tomatoes while trying to allow our soil to heal from a possible virus or fungus. We are only growing our favorite slicers and cherry tomatoes this year and since we have an ample supply of home-canned tomato sauces, we will have enough to get us through another year.

Our plans for homegrown potatoes will take us on a new adventure this year because we have planned to keep potatoes out of the gardens, too. Potatoes and tomatoes are from the nightshade genus, Solanum, so both will be planted outside of our garden areas.

This year, our potatoes will be grown in containers and we will “hill” the plants as they grow. We plan to use some spare buckets and a few of our spare garbage containers, maybe an old 55-gallon plastic rain barrel, too. We are only growing 25 pounds of potato this year so we are hoping for a decent yield.

Without the potatoes and tomatoes in the garden areas, we are planning to grow several plantings of corn plus more melons and Winter squash. And, of course, the standard variety of all other delicious veggies we have seeds for.

Hopefully, in a few months, the greenhouse will be greening up, filled with plants, hope, and activities.  I must have early Spring Fever — do you have Spring Fever yet?

Greenhouse Looking ForwardToSpring

The Mess From Oz

There are seedlings in the greenhouse ready to harden off.

And these Chinese Cabbage seedlings are tempting me to just add them to the salad bowl!  :-)

Chinese Cabbage seedlings

Yesterday I was preparing to lug a few flats outside to start the hardening-off process. Then I heard the weather report:  a cold week was coming. With the temps dipping to the low 20s, and weekend snow and rain, this sure wasn’t going to be the week to gently harden off any greenhouse seedlings.

Last night, the weather changed abruptly and we had a wicked thunderstorm. Bright lightening, thunder in the Valley, and wind that was strong enough to make me think “twister”.

At some point during all of the nighttime weather commotion, that “twister” wind wasn’t a movie and it wasn’t a dream. Garden Camp was turned into The Mess from Oz.

Garden Camp was trashed. One garden tent was air-lifted and dropped about 15 feet away, right in the middle of a Garlic bed.  Sheesh. One of the Kale tents was wind-pushed all they way down to a border where it’s now resting atop Daylily clumps and Lavender. Wow. The Lettuce tent was air-scooted to a new position where it sat right on top of the center section of the Lettuce crowns. The only thing missing were the witch’s Ruby Red Slippers under the tent frame.

It could have been much worse. I won’t look at the squished, dirt-splashed lettuce…..I’ll focus on the perfect ones.

Buttercrunch Lettuce Wintered over

We’re not in Kansas, but we sure had some wild and wicked weather at Garden Camp last night.  Garden Camp turned into The Mess From Oz.  We’ll need to reposition the tents later on.

There was only one well-behaved tent, a Kale tent.  I overturned it myself to pick some fresh Kale for dinner!

Kale Wintered Over

After checking, I learned of yesterday’s high wind and tornadoes in the Ohio Valley and western Pennsylvania. What a fright!

Goat Eggs and Such

The barn raising continues…

Kidding season has begun at Briar Mountain Farm, with 5 doelings and 2 baby bucks already. Another of their does is due to kid today — I can only imagine their excitement!  The family is fantastic to work with and we are kept up-to-date on their goats.

Tomorrow, we work on the barn. We’ll add the roof and tar paper, then add the shingles. Then we’ll finish off the windows, make operational shutters and begin working on the interior and flooring. The exterior will be finishing off with vertical strips like lathing, then the barn will be painted. My husband suggested we paint it camo colors so it would blend into the wooded areas. I suggested pink. This is a girl’s house! ;-)

The other day our granddaughter asked if goats gave eggs…..I told her that goats gave milk. When I told her we could make yoghurt, kefir, and ice cream with goat’s milk, she became very interested. I think 4H may be in her future so I’ll check on the Cloverbud program and if there isn’t one in our County, perhaps I’ll lead the Cloverbud group again. The budding 4H youngsters are such a joy to work with!

Our homestead has been exceptionally busy all Winter long. Now that we are heading into Spring, the weather is cooperating and I’ve been tending some early plantings in Garden #1.  When the day is mild, the tents here at Garden Camp are opened up  — nothing beats fresh air and rain!  But I have to keep an eye on the weather — it changes quickly and March wind is fierce on this ridge top. If I don’t watch the tents closely and the wind decides to kick up, we’ll have tent manuevers and blow-overs!

Our overwintered Lettuce and Kale are doing fine. The Chard didn’t fare as well this Winter so I uprooted it and cleared the soil under the tent. During that brief warm spell, I got my hands nice and dirty, turned all of the soil, then planted some early Pac Choi and a lettuce.The following day it rained and I kept the tent fully open. Hopefully, we’ll have some early greens!

Following the extended weather report the other day, I planted a short row of Snow Peas, too. But the weather report wasn’t accurate and it’s been colder than I anticipated. It’s time to dig out some plastic to re-heat the soil to ensure the peas sprout.

Last week, the greenhouse was finally opened up and we fired up the heat, then turned on the water out there.  Most mornings, I am inside sowing flat after flat of seeds. I was hungry one morning and decided upon 2 full flats of Broccoli for the Spring garden. New Life Lesson: Never sow vegetable seeds when you are hungry.

“The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.” 

-Edna St. Vincent Millay


Greenery At Garden Camp

The temperatures in the Valley are rising! The next few days will be above-freezing, most of the remaining snow will melt, and hopefully the ground will thaw.

Yesterday and today I took advantage of the above-freezing weather and opened up all of the Winter tents at Garden Camp. As soon as the morning temps rise, I head outside to prop the tents open. A few days of sunshine and fresh air are what we all live for, even the veggies inside the Winter tents.

Today I picked some Lettuce and Kale for fresh eating with our evening meal. Some of the Lettuce leaves have some unsightly die-back but I can work around that. At the produce stand, organic leaf lettuce was $3.99/lb last week! I’ll take home-grown, thankyouverymuch…

Doesn’t it just figure that there is such amazing weed growth under the tents? But check out that Clover on the back left!

What a nice site from the back windows now: greenery! The garden greens are alive and hanging on.

Despite the very cold temps and frozen soil,  I see the advantages to Winter gardening.  The Wintertime Garden Camp will become a yearly event around here. Maybe next Winter, the encampment might even grow!

Meanwhile At Garden Camp

Winter gardening is cold and lonely. Except for the birds at the nearby feeding station, I’m the only Garden Camper.

Around here, no one has a Winter garden. In fact, I would be willing to bet that we’re the only Winter gardeners in this County. No, that’s not right — we’re probably the only Winter gardeners in this tri-County region.  Are we ahead-of-everyone or just eccentrics?

Here at Garden Camp, the veggies are all under plastic cover and it’s been so cold that I have not opened the tents up for “air” for a week. During the day, when the sun is shining, the condensation continues to bead and the little ecosystems inside the garden tents are doing well during the day.  The Kale, Chard, and Lettuce are all holding on, despite the below-freezing temperatures on the outside of the garden tents.

When the wind isn’t blustery-cold, I dress warmly and visit Garden Camp. While there, I pick garden lettuce!

The year-and-a-half old gnarly Chard is under plastic, too. Using an old tunnel frame, I wrapped some extra plastic covering over this old Chard to protect it from Winter. I am curious to see how the plants will fare next Spring. This Chard is from Garden Camp 2009 and was over-wintered that year. Maybe I should say over-snowed? Anyway, everything took a blizzard-pounding and pulled through. Then, rather than bolt during the Summer of 2010, the Chard continued to produce edible greens all Summer and Fall.  Rather knobby and bedraggled looking, it kept growing so I decided not to uproot it. Wouldn’t you know the Chard never bolted — even in the record heat. With veggie production like that, I thought this was seed worth saving. But it never bolted!! Now I am curious to know whether or not this Chard might be a fluke or a perennial if given protection.

So now if I can keep the old Chard alive until next year, I’ll try for some seed to save. If it lives and doesn’t bolt, I’ll start thinking we have a perennial strain of Swiss Chard growing. Whatever the results are, for now, we have an ongoing experiment!

December 21. Today is the first day of Winter and we have already had 2 snows. The wise weathermen are forecasting a White Christmas now. Here we go again….