Taraxacum season

Dandelions are only a nuisance weed if you have lovely heaps of fertile soil. For those of us who live on a pile of rocks, Taraxacum o. is a long-season cultivator with a tap root that loosens packed subsoils and moves soil nutrients to the surface for other, more delicate species. The composite blossoms are a dependable food source for the bees during the early spring, and I have to admit that as much as it would have driven my father crazy, I don’t mind looking out my front door on to a sea of yellow blooms.

taraxacum o

Looking to the side yard toward the swamp, where the blue Chinese forget-me-not is blooming early and the Centura nearly taking over. . .

Taraxacum o in bloom

And along the front walk by the hives and tomato plants in their protective cloches.

Dandelions under the plum tree

We’ve had a few warm days since I took these photos last Sunday, and the blueberry bushes in the foreground are all blossomed pink and white. Spring is passing quickly!

 

 

The bees are coming, the bees are coming!

. . .so I spent most of Sunday making them a nice clean home.

New location for hive

Last year’s hives were down the hill in the garden proper (one of the originals is visible in the photo above). Unfortunately, neither colony was particularly strong and bald hornets attacked in July. They’re carnivores and attack the hives for their larvae as well as honey and pollen stores: neither colony survived the long Maine winter. The new site is not too far away, on the hillside overlooking the garden in a nice, sunny spot where the hornets may not find it right away. My research suggests it doesn’t take much displacement to confuse the predators.

Sunday was clear and warm although you can see that we still have plenty of snow around the yard. The exposed ground was soft and the air temp stayed @ 50 F during daylight hours. The first hatch of mosquitoes is still a week or so in the future (I hope) so it was a pleasant day to spend outdoors, cleaning and smoking the used hive boxes and bleaching the hive-top feeders. I may even have gotten a little bit sunburnt around the edges.

This weekend I’ll get packaged bees delivered from Spicer Bees in Whitefield and we’ll start the 2014 garden season with a new colony. I’ve fitted out the old hive box, below, with smoke-cleaned frames, applied Bee Charm to the inner surfaces, and left the bottom entrance fixture open to see if we can attract a swarm.

finished new hive

A view from the garden down the bee highway:

bee highway

 

Seed order 2014, new directions

Every winter I try to take a snow day off from work and spend the morning finalizing my seed order to Fedco. There’s something very satisfying about glancing up from long, detailed descriptions of luscious tomatoes and tender green beans to see the snow pelting down outside. (Seeds for bush beans and alyssm “Carpet of Snow” are already on order, as they were in 2013 below.)

beanies beans

My seed order for the coming year will be an experiment; an acknowledgement of suspicions and assumptions that I’ve been resisting for several seasons. My new guidelines, In no particular order, are:

  • I don’t need to grow boatloads of everything. That goes double for tomatoes
  • I should grow more of what we actually eat, regardless of whether it appeals to my Yankee nature and stores well in the pantry or root cellar
  • I love flowers, I paint flowers, and although we can’t eat flowers, I should step all over that Yankee nature and give serious consideration to creating a huge cutting garden.

And maybe give in to the occasional impulse buy that turns out to be really cool – like Dutch Butter popcorn!

dutch popcorn

Well, no, growing popcorn is an indulgence in space that we could be taking up by growing 9′ stalks of Silver Queen (the finest white sweet corn of all time), so popcorn didn’t make the 2014 list. I am easily swayed to excess when I’m reading seed catalogs but I think I managed to hold closely to my New Rules. FEDCO seeds just emailed me my order confirmation:

214 – Greencrop Bush Green Bean ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
658 – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
818 – Oregon Giant Snow Pea ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2073 – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrot ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
2186 – Bulls Blood Beet ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
2425 – Bleu de Solaize Leek ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2510 – Space Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2555 – Giant Winter Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2766 – Australian Yellow Lettuce OG ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
3209 – Maruba Santoh ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3222 – Tokyo Bekana ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3230 – Mizspoona Salad Selects Gene Pool OG ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3273 – Joi Choi Pac Choi ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3315 – Gypsy Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3316 – Purple Peacock Gene Pool Broccoli OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
3322 – Arcadia Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
4441 – Aromato Basil OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4481 – Wild Bergamot OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5113 – Sunburst Heliopsis ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
5168 – Giant Imperial Mixed Larkspur ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5171 – Lavatera Mix ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5291 – Tall Climbing Mix Nasturtium ( A=4g ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5350 – Elka Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5351 – Ziar Breadseed Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5731 – State Fair Mix Zinnia ( B=2g ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80

This order and what I’ve saved from previous years will probably still grow more that we can eat, but perhaps I won’t feel quite as compelled to spend the entire harvest season canning tomatoes. Perhaps. The baby in this photo is now 22 – obviously I have a long history of growing too much produce!

tomatoes, everywhere

Happiness (a poem for the Garden)

the evening garden

Happiness
BY PAISLEY REKDAL
I have been taught never to brag but now
I cannot help it: I keep
a beautiful garden, all abundance,
indiscriminate, pulling itself
from the stubborn earth: does it offend you
to watch me working in it,
touching my hands to the greening tips or
tearing the yellow stalks back, so wild
the living and the dead both
snap off in my hands?
The neighbor with his stuttering
fingers, the neighbor with his broken
love: each comes up my drive
to receive his pitying,
accustomed consolations, watches me
work in silence awhile, rises in anger,
walks back. Does it offend them to watch me
not mourning with them but working
fitfully, fruitlessly, working
the way the bees work, which is to say
by instinct alone, which looks like pleasure?

nicotiana and heliotropeI can stand for hours among the sweet
narcissus, silent as a point of bone.
I can wait longer than sadness. I can wait longer
than your grief. It is such a small thing
to be proud of, a garden. Today
there were scrub jays, quail,
a woodpecker knocking at the whiteand-black shapes of trees, and someone’s lost rabbit
scratching under the barberry: is it
indiscriminate? Should it shrink back, wither,
and expurgate? Should I, too, not be loved?

lettuces in the night gardenIt is only a little time, a little space.
Why not watch the grasses take up their colors in a rush
like a stream of kerosene being lit?
If I could not have made this garden beautiful
I wouldn’t understand your suffering,
nor care for each the same, inflamed way.
I would have to stay only like the bees,
beyond consciousness, beyond
self-reproach, fingers dug down hard
into stone, and growing nothing.
There is no end to ego,

with its museum of disappointments.
I want to take my neighbors into the garden
and show them: Here is consolation.
Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops
around the sparrows as they fight.
It lives alongside their misery.
It glows each evening with a violent light.

asters

Raspberry season

Everything is better fresh-picked from your own garden, but some things are at the top of that list: sweet corn, early radishes, butter lettuce, and raspberries.

raspberry variety

The yellow berries on top of the bowl are a fall-bearing variety named “Anne”. The plants have long, loose canes and the berries dangle precariously at the very ends. Summer 2013 has been one of the wettest and hottest on record here and Anne is fruiting early, way ahead of her normal September production.

raspberry-season-anneI also grow Boyne (standard red summer-bearing) and Royalty Purple (deep purple soft round berries). This 10′ x 20′ patch produces about 2 batches of jam, a dozen pies and cakes, and all we can eat fresh. I’d like to add another patch – perhaps with the same varieties because they’re so dependable – and dry them in the soon-to-be-built earth oven. Raspberry raisins?

raspberry-season-libertyWhile there are many, many laws that govern the garden as a whole, there are only a few things to know about growing an individual plant or species. Raspberry rules:

  • Plant 3 or 4 canes each in hills rather than a continuous bed. It will be easier to prune out old canes (distinguished by their papery bark) that become unproductive, and to water and mulch them.
  • Set a sturdy stake at each end of the row and run 3 levels of bailing wire between them. Tie the canes loosely to the wires and you won’t have to force your way into the briar patch. You can use string, but thin wire will last the life of the bushes.
  • Scatter bird scares through the patch over the ripening period. I tie shiny tape to the baling wire where the wind will catch it. Later I put out a few yellow plastic balloons with a “fire eye” painted on them, and some owl silhouettes. Keep ’em guessing.
  • Try the Maine Fruit Cake recipe with a little vanilla sugar on the raspberries.

Garden revolution

There are a few articles floating around out there about a garden revolution in the front yard, but somehow I feel they don’t go far enough. I understand that swapping out a lawn for raised beds is already a sea-change for many folks (and their Homeowner Associations) but I’d like to encourage us to make that extra step toward welcoming everything that lives in a garden, even the ones we can’t see. Maybe especially the things we can’t see. It’s difficult to structure a raised bed to readily welcome fungi, soil organisms, minute insect life, and opportunistic seed growth, but any old patch of dirt will prove a living welcome mat for all those things if you just leave room.

I’ve come to understand that organized garden beds are really for the humans. We like to keep inventory and we’re easily distracted so we plant what we want to keep in neat rows and discard the rest. Moving toward the idea that our choice edibles grow best when hidden from predators and mulched against extremes of weather, here’s a set of photos matched up with a list of what has been planted amidst the chaos in my yard.

Gardening front yardThis section of the front yard contains: amaranth, Kentucky Pole and Scarlet Runner beans, daylilies, witchhazel, rhubarb, peas, crabapple, tomatoes, potatoes (4 varieties), sweet corn, persimmon, pumpkins, cucumbers, winter squash, willow, sour (pie) cherry, quincy, lingonberries, cranberries, plum, comfrey, grapes, and allium.

garden inventory side yard

The side yard, and along the path to the driveway: dill, madder, strawberries, tomatoes (5 varieties), parsley, carrots, leeks, garlic, one pumpkin plant (I guess I lost track), grapes, willow, elecampne, hosta, gunnera, astilbe, blueberries, cecephalus, and just off to the right of this photo, plum, apple, tree peony.

garden inventory dooryardIn Maine parlance this is the dooryard – just down the steps from the front door: edible dandelion, calendula, columbine, mullein, anise hyssop, golden beets, Bull’s Blood beets (grown for the ruby-red foliage); yellow Australian, Red Sails, Winter Romaine, and Thom Thumb lettuces, assorted mustards, bergenia, feverfew, tatsoi, senposi, minutia, poppies, and honeysuckle.

Therefore, a manifesto to gardeners everywhere (and with apologies to Freemasons), chao ab ordo!

Garden Movie (the trailer)

Maine is an extraordinary place to garden. The seasonal extremes are right on the edge of survival for many common edible plants with a daylight range of 6.5 to nearly 18 hours and temperatures from minus 15  to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The visual evidence of the garden changes dramatically from bare ground and branches, to 3 – 5 feet of snow cover, back to brown and then an explosion of bright green starting in May. To capture some of this process I began taking a photo a day this spring, focusing on exactly the same spot from the same location. I plan to knit them together into a little animated garden movie. (The plot won’t be much but the acting is terrific.) I won’t have time for the project till winter sets in, but meanwhile – here’s the first photo from April 8, 2013

April 8, 2013And here’s the same view on Saturday, June 15. The road is now only visible when I catch a car going by.

June 15, 2013What a difference a few hours daily gain of sunlight can make!

 

May gardens be wild like jungles. . .

A Prayer for the 21st Century, by John Marsden

May the road be free for the journey,Flame azalea
May it lead where it promised it would.
May the stars that gave ancient bearings
Be seen and be understood:
May every aircraft fly safely;
May every traveler be found;
May sailors in crossing the seas,
Not hear the cries of the drowned. MayHerb: angelica
gardens be wild like jungles,
May nature never be tamed.
May dangers create of us heroes,
May fears always have names.
May the mountains stand to remind us
Of what it means to be young;
May we be outlived by our daughters,
May we be outlived by our sons.

May the bombs rust away in the bunkers,
And the doomsday clock be rewound;
May the solitary scientists, working,
Remember the holes in the ground.
May the knife remain in the holder,
May the bullet stay in the gun,
May those who live in the shadows
Be seen by those in the sun.

Mrs. Moon

June in the garden

May has turned to June and the garden is taking over. We’re currently under 16 hours, 35 minutes of daylight, folks, and the plants are loving it. Of course, on the twenty-first we’ll start counting backwards toward December. Nobody tell the beans, OK?

The garden changes with the weather: one day of sun,

laundry-day-sun

and one day of rain.laundry-day-rain

The bees love their centura highway.laundry-day-centura

The bees have been busy in the Seckle pear where every blossom has started a tiny brown fruit. I’ll probably have to thin these this year.laundry-day-pears

Flats of seedlings still waiting for the gardener, and a new slate-topped bed where the old peach tree used to stand. (Moment of silence for those ghost bushels of peaches. . .)laundry-day-3First outside laundry day of 2013! Please don’t tell my mother that I wash and hang darks and lights together. She did individual loads of wash by person and then divvied it up further by dark/light and general amount of soiling. Now that I think about it, that probably made sense given my brother’s clothes would be covered with hay chaff and machine oil – still too much decision-making for me.

laundry-day-1