Winter 2013/14 was brutal and went on waay too long so it is pleasant to be in the middle of a cold, rainy but not too bad winter. Things are progressing in the garden with the first snow drops just popping up through the frozen soil. The witch hazels are doing fine and the first one has just starting to bloom – this one is Amethyst and has a beautiful burgundy flower.
Winter flowering witch hazel
On the indoors I have lettuce and peas growing in the sunroom and they are doing great. We are harvesting lettuce for salads and sandwiches all winter long.
Last week I was in Pittsburgh!! We lived there for a few years and what I remember of the town was a poor road system and lots of snow! This conference showed me the other side of the town both downtown and slightly further out.
The first surprise was that the conference center had a garden on the roof. There were concrete beds filled with tomatoes, kales and other fresh vegetables which were harvested for the hotel or conference events.
Pittsburgh Conference Center Rooftop Garden
And there were flowers too for pollination!
This summer has been rather cool compared to normal and the amount of rain has been slightly above normal. The net result is lots of great growing conditions and that has led to some enormous plants which are, in at least one case, impeding the poor meter reader getting access to the electrical meter. These guys were a maintainable size last year, but as with so many second year perennials the size has almost doubled. Case in point these lovely dinner plate size hibiscus:
H. moscheutos ‘Blue River II’
This second image, which is closer shows where the electric meter is – slighly to the right of the lower left bloom. There is also a rather overgrown rhododendron there too. Last year I was sent a little note that they, the electric company, would appreciate better access to the meter and would I kindly clear the area – I may get another one this year !! These are really too big here anyway and will look better in the cottage garden to the side.
H. moscheutos ‘Blue River II’
Of course the veggie bed is doing well – it gets regular water and great temperatures for summer squash production. If you don’t catch the squash when it is small, the next day it can be enormous – I think it would be called a marrow at this stage. These over sized zucchini were at the back corner of the garden and I missed them. The third small one was harvested from the same plant this morning. There is not really much difference apart from size and there are some summer squash that are bred to be larger than others. Now I need a recipe to stuff these guys – of course my guys don’t like squash at all but I don’t want to waste them!
These zucchini grew too big so I am calling them marrows!
This month has been busy with getting the tomatoes staked and harvesting beans, potatoes, garlic, onions and squash – the zucchini is going rampant! It would be fair to say that I over-planted zucchini and each and every one is producing very well. Within a few days of the first flowers, which were male flowers, the female flowers started. Some of the male flowers are huge!
Male squash flowers
This will be a female flower which will likely open tomorrow morning
Last month I saw an interesting way to stake tomatoes which I am trying – not before time as the tomatoes are also way to big to not be staked. The idea was from the turn of the last century and the tomatoes were supported by a grid of wood. The two foot grid is horizontal at a height of about 2 ft. The tomatoes are supported here but not trussed upright. This gives shade to the roots and still allows for easy harvesting. I have a bunch of plastic pipe in the garage to make the structure later today or maybe the weekend There are lots of tomatoes but they are still green right now.
The depressingly long winter morphed into a cool spring and very few signs of summer which has made for a poor start for the warm weather guys but a great year for the peas and lettuce! I think this is the first year that the lettuce has been still edible and not bolting in June, but the real prize goes to the peas. I planted a lot of peas because usually you only get one or two harvests – by the time they put out flowers, and pods the weather is already turning to warm nights and hot days which the vines do not like. This year we are still cool to warm and no hot weather yet so the peas kept going and the harvests are still great. I am trying two new ones this year – a purple podded pea and a yellow podded pea. Both are shelling peas and are a little later than the main crop that I put out but the pods are filling out nicely and they will be ready in a few days. The peas inside the colorful pods are standard green.
Alas the peas have had such a good season that they are reaching out past the support and crawling over the edge of the raised bed!
On America’s Home Grown Veggie Show March 29th we are going to talk to Tammi Hartung about Wildlife Vegetable Gardening. This great book talks about how to coexist with wildlife in the garden! Everything from lavender to distract deer to multi variety hedges that provide shelter and berries for birds all help to minimize the destruction of your vegetable garden by animals.
We are also giving away 2 books on March 29th so listen to the show and check the Facebook page to see how to win one of the books.
After a long a tedious winter, we have a few mild days on tap and no sign of another arctic blast (thought it is still too early to say they will not arrive). While all the weather was going on outside, I was growing indoors. The first seedlings were set in mid January and transplanted to individual pots by mid February. This past few days they have been placed outside for a few hours to get them used to wind and natural sunshine. They are now big enough to go into the garden!!
Last week I spent making raised beds and filling them with compost and one of the beds are just 4 foot square and is intended to be used as a cold frame for early and late vegetables. This is where the first graduating seedlings are going to be set.
So the weather went from halfway decent to downright yuk in just 24 hours. Before the storm though I was at a local nursery picking up a magnolia, a daphne and an edgeworthia. The edgeworthia is a stunning shrub that blooms early in the year and will give the witch hazel a run for its money for winter interest. They were in cold hoop houses but with the bitterly cold weather they are resting in the little sun porch area. Even with close to zero last night, this area was still just above freezing so great for seedlings and dormant plants.
The edgeworthia in budlittle seedlings enjoying the sunshine without the cold temps.
There is some concern about the coldness but as we have 10 inches of snow covering the ground I think everything will be insulated from the cold. Of course everyone would like spring to arrive quickly!
The porch yesterday evening
America’s Home Grown Veggies is entering another year, and this year we are starting a project segment which kicks off this Saturday , Jan 18th at 10am eastern on www.americaswebradio.com The show airs 52 weeks a year and talks about growing healthy vegetables and other edibles.
The four project cover a variety of topics:
Gardening Jones is launching a new raised bed system for gardeners. The sides of he raised bed have an insert which rotates upward to support screens. The screens can change from ones to protect from frost, to animal and insect protection.
Then we talked to author Rebecca Sweet who is working on getting more texture and color into her front garden. Suggested edibles that she uses are rosemary, salvias and artichokes.
The third project is from Jacqueline Soule who lives in Tuscon where the climate is very dry. She plans on planting a herb garden based on the plants that Father Kino used (late 17th century). These include natives as well as some traditional herbs like sage, which has to be kept on the north of the home to survive.
Finally we talk to Gardenchat host Brenda Haas who is aiming to get kids into the garden. A mother of two teens and caretaker of a 2 yr old, she has lots of experience getting children into the garden and making it fun for them to learn where their food comes from.
With Christmas and the shortest day behind us, I am now concentrating on the future growing season. My immediate focus is on raised beds. One is already made but I need to get a few more sorted before a delivery of dormant bushes and plants arrive. For some reason, Peaceful Valley, which I love ordering from, send their dormant plants in the middle of January. This may be fine for Georgia but for the Mid Atlantic that is a bit optimistic. If the polar vortex that hit 10 days ago where to arrive this week the whole shipment would have to wait to be planted. I am hoping that the mild temperatures that we have this week will stick around long enough for me to finish these new beds.
Right now I have one 12×4 bed for the strawberries and one 4×4 for the garlic – already up and running. Still to go are 1@10×10 for the berries, 1@6×6 for asparagus, 4@12×4 for tomatoes, cabbages, potatoes etc. To fit them in I think I need to move 2 fruit trees which are dormant and planted last fall, and maybe get some more land cleared.
Filling the beds is just as problematic because the big box stores are low on garden material like peat moss and compost. I had to drive 10 miles to get the peat moss and I suspect they will be out soon. Fortunately only 2 beds need to be made this week, the others are for annuals and can wait a week or two. Underneath these there are fall leaves, kitchen scraps and some wood ashes.
In essence there is a lot of work to do before any of the shipment is sent and it probably will not all get done this week but I can try!!
The existing raised bed.
This afternoon I plan to get at least some of the wood and make sure that there is space for everything!