Monday, April 30

Note to Michele: Blooms and Garden Happenings

Your chard and parsley look like I'd expect mine to in July or August. I envy your long growing season! I never heard of freezing chard but I'm going to try it this year. My crop last year held up well into December so it does seem to be hardy and has a lot of substance to it. It would probably be great added to soups.

I was not certain about cats eating parsley so I did an Internet search. Everything I read said it is good for cats and you can even add it to their food. Did I tell you I have one cat who eats tulips every time I have a vase of them? I looked it up and it seems to be safe. My cat never got sick from eating them but I wasn't too happy about the loss of my tulips.
I took some photos of what is blooming in my garden at the moment. I can not for the life of me remember what the name of the plant above is. Someone gave it to me last spring and it's doing beautifully.
And here are my violets. I have many clusters of these all over my gardens in both purple and white. These are a cultivated variety, but I have wild violets too. The wild violets are smaller in both leaf and blossom. I want to try making violet syrup with them, but I can't bear to pick off all those pretty little blossoms.
My apple tree is blooming. Like everything else, it's a few weeks earlier than usual.
In the forest by my shed, the wild dog tooth violets are blooming. These are also called trout lily. I think they are edible, but I've never tried them.

In the veggie patch, we have some greens and radishes sprouting up. I started some cosmos seeds, which is one of my favorite annual flowers. I read some people inter-plant them with asparagus to create a nice look in the summer when the asparagus harvest is over. I'm going to do that.

 We haven't planted the community garden yet because our weather turned cool again. It's really not safe to plant until after the chance of frost has passed which is usually late May, though this year things are so up and down it's hard to say. I know I will plant peppers at the community garden early June. Those did so well last year I was able to freeze and dry loads of peppers to use all winter. I bought a canning set recently. I know nothing about canning but I'm hoping some family members might give me lessons. Have you ever tried canning your harvest?

Sunday, April 29

Note to Caroline: Id Tags, Chard and more...

Here is a bag of the Chard seed balls that I bought at the Portland Garden Show to try this year. It was sort of expensive. If I remember right it was around $7 a bag. Seed balls are an important staple in guerrilla gardening. Usually done in a urban city it is when a plot of unused or undesired land is taken over and "seed bombed". The seeds are enclosed in soil so I believe all you need to do is throw them on the ground.Taking over unused or undesired land is quite common here.People have taken over empty lots in their neighborhood and most of the time the space is converted into urban farms.
The over wintered chard is getting ready to go to seed so I started to harvesting the leaves. I read that you can actually freeze chard by cutting it into 2 inch pieces;blanching for 3 minutes and getting rid of excess water then placing in freezer bags.It will keep for 1 year. I wonder if this works? I always assumed you could not freeze it like lettuce. I hope it works because I have tons of chard.

The over wintered parsley looks like it is about to die now so that is something else I plan to pick and perhaps dry.
My Chloe was really interested in the parsley.I did not let her eat it as I have to check if cats an eat parsley.Do you know if they can?

Pictured below are my new id tags for the garden. I put them on my Christmas wish list and received 2 packages of 50. They work 100 times better than the wooden sticks I had last year. Everyone at the garden loves them.

Sage

Pretty Borage

The seeds that I put in a few weeks ago have sprouted. No sign of the potatoes yet. What I have left are all the summer crops like beans. It is too early to plant anything like that now.
How is planting going there? Did you decide what to grow at your community garden?

Friday, April 27

Bonsai

Bonsai is an artistic representation of a natural tree. It is an image, an illusion of nature. It is
smoke and mirrors that defies the senses. The best bonsai are magicians' tricks that have
fooled the eye into seeing a far off place in the distant past, or the side of a craggy cliff. We
all have to strive to be the magician.
- Al Keppler
Soon my son, our resident green thumb, will be buying a Bonsai specimen. Since visiting the new Bonsai exhibit at the Museum of Science, he's been pondering what type he wants.
  In the near future, we'll be taking a trip down to a nursery that carries Bonsai. This interest was inspired by our recent visit to the exhibit.
This particular bonsai is over 100 years old!

To see more of our visit to the bonsai exhibit and for some fun bonsai links, visit Caroline's blog Pinecones and Periwinkles.

Thursday, April 26

Lilacs are Blooming Early in Maine!

Lilacs,
False blue,
White,
Purple,
Color of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,
Lilac in me because I am New England,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because my flowers are for it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.
 
~from 'Lilacs' by Amy Lowell

Tuesday, April 24

Note to Michele: A Walk in the Woods

So here is my lettuce which is the same variety that you have going to seed. This variety is quite hardy as it survived the winter here. While we did have a mild winter, it still dropped below freezing so I'm amazed these survived. Mine show no signs of going to seed so I'm curious to see what we get from them. I believe these are the cinnamon lettuce which came from Baker Creek Seeds.
My son planted his blueberry bushes right before the cold rainy spell we had a few days ago. I checked on them today and sadly I couldn't find anything left of them other than some twigs not even worth photographing. So here is a photo of one of our young blackberry bushes. These are native bushes which we have allowed to sprout. They provide us with a good amount of berries each summer.
Many years ago, I had gardens filled with lupine and each summer they were beautiful. I don't know what happened to my lupine, but gradually they died off. So, last year I collected some seeds from a field and sowed them. Here are the young lupine. They probably won't bloom this year, but maybe next year.
This is my view behind my house. I like to take little walks in these woods every day. This time of year things are starting to sprout, little ferns are uncurling and a green mist is developing on the forest floor replacing the brown carpet of dead leaves. This forest is mostly white pine and eastern hemlock with a few oaks.
This little plant is wintergreen. It stays green all winter long. It has a wonderful smell of wintergreen and can be used to make tea. The french called it little tea of the woods. When the colonists boycotted British tea long ago, they drank winterberry tea instead. This plant has many medicinal uses. In a future post, I'll show you the photographs of the flowers and berries it produces.
And here is a view looking up into the forest canopy. Gray squirrels often make nests almost at the very top of the white pines. Once the babies are born and out of the nest, we often are treated to the young squirrels chasing each other through the tree tops.
And as usual, I was followed by a cat. Just Miss Natalie today.
We had a nice walk together.

Monday, April 23

Response to Caroline: Progress in the Garden

Today was beautiful in Portland and we broke records for one of the warmest days in April. It was up in the 80's, just like the weather you have been having in Maine for the last month. I heard on the news that a cold snap is due this week where you live. What will you do with all the plants that you put in over the past couple of weeks? It seems like our weather is always opposite. This is our last day of warm weather. It is back to reality with average temperatures in the high 50's.

Thought you might be interested in this restaurant that I pass by on my walk to the community garden. I took a photo of it because like most businesses here, sustainability and green practices are very common.Notice in the second picture that the water from the roof downpour spout is being used to water some kind of roof top planters.

Below is the park that is attached to my garden. I have to walk through the park to get to my garden.

 I spent my whole two hours in the garden mulching pathways to keep weeding to a minimum. This is the mulch that the community garden provides. It isn't really the best.Only wood chips, but it is better than nothing. I think your son got the same sort of free chips from your city down there or was it better stuff?


The Rhubarb I started from seed last year is doing really well.Notice how large the leaves are getting and the stalks look like they are ready to harvest now. You know I am not a great cook, but I made a nice Apple & Rhubarb crumble pie last year. We used Rhubarb a great deal when I was growing up in England. 
Here is one of those fancy lettuces that survived the winter and is now going to seed.

Another plant that has gone to seed. I can't tell what it was, but I probably should pull it before the seed pods release their seeds.
 Chives with their pretty purple flowers
 One of my garden neighbors gave me some winter and summer squash starts.I put them in the ground although I think it is a tad early. Another neighbor started a tomato plant.I know it is way early for tomatoes, but it might be a good idea to get a few in if we don't get a cold snap. One hassle I have been experiencing is getting rid of the rye cover crop. I don't think any
kind of grass cover crop is a good idea if you have to get rid of it by hand. I like how the cover crop worked ,but this fall I am planting what everyone else does here-Crimson Clover.

Saturday, April 21

Note to Michele: mulch, planting and cats

We decided to mulch our garden because the weeds were just too out of control to pull. The ajuga I'd planted years ago was taking over despite our best efforts to keep it out of the vegetable garden. We figured a heavy mulch might be the easiest way to deal with it. So it was off to the garden center. My kitties followed me to the garden and I believe would have followed me to the garden center had I let them. These days if I'm outside, they follow me and watch my every move.
At the garden center, the plants were surprisingly small.
The weather has been so warm I guess I absentmindedly thought the plants would be bigger but really it is quite early. I have to remind myself it's only April!

These statues looked like a group of mourners at a funeral. I'd love to take a few home for my gardens if it weren't for the high numbers on those little blue tags they wear.
Back home, I planted my Easter lily which was going by.
My son planted the asparagus crowns he bought and mulched the garden. This year, we are using both salt marsh hay and straw to compare the two. Straw is much more affordable, so all other things equal we'll go with straw in the future. We paid 11 dollars a bale for Salt Marsh Hay but only 8 dollars a bale for straw.
I also planted some seeds like peas, beans, cilantro, as well as a lettuce mix I picked up at the garden center. The strawberries are blooming, as is the ground phlox, and my daughter's radishes are sprouting.
We decided to keep our community garden plot this year. My son spent several hours at the work day getting everything weeded and ready to go for the year.

That's the update from here. What's new in your garden?

Monday, April 16

Note to Michele: Asparagus

Hi Michele,

Your garden looks beautiful! I'm glad the weather is looking better now and you were able to plant all those seeds. As far as the beets and peas, I've never heard of planting them in combination so it will be an interesting experiment seeing how it works for you.

The news from here is that we have ONE asparagus in our asparagus patch. We've been adding plants each year, however it takes several years before a harvest is possible so we've been waiting on this for some time. I don't know where the other spears are and hoping the plants survived.

Above you see the little berries from last years asparagus plants. Inside each berry are seeds. I'm wondering if we can plant these and get asparagus eventually? What do you think?
And here is the photo of our ONE asparagus spear. If you look closely there is another coming up right beside the big one. My son and I are trying to decide what we will do with this one- though it's nice and plump, it doesn't quite make a meal. We may toss a coin for it.

In other news, our seedlings are not doing well confirming my hypothesis that I'm just not cut out for starting seeds indoors. More and more I'm leaning toward planting things which take as little fuss as possible which I know isn't easy when it comes to gardening. My son and I are going to make one of our gardens purely perennial food plants with berry bushes, asparagus plants and strawberries. I like the idea of plants that stick around year after year. I think I'm going to reread Gaia's Garden and learn more about permaculture.

That's about it for now, but I'll be sure to let you know who wins the asparagus spear!

Sunday, April 15

Note to Caroline: First Seed Sowing Day

It is a late start here this year due to heavy spring rain and cool weather. Today was in the 60's so I took the opportunity to sow some seeds.





In bed one I sowed the following: Evergreen Hardy White Bunching Onion, Saxa II Radish, Miner's Lettuce, Arugula and Parisienne Carrot. In bed two  I sowed the following: Bull's Blood Beets, Oregon Sugar Pod II Peas and Sugar Ann Snow Peas. Not sure that peas and beets make such a great combination? What do you think?

Tomorrow I hope to plant my Potatoes and Strawberries. I saw my garden neighbor today
and she is going to send her Strawberry runners my way. We also discussed the possibility of putting
up a compost bin we can share.

Tuesday, April 3

Reply to Michele: Early Spring in Maine

Dear Michele,

Take a close look  at the photo above. If you look carefully you can see our kitten, now quite a grown up cat who is about to celebrate her first birthday on April 22. She blends in- so look close. I can't go out into the garden or for a walk without her joining me.

Yes, spring arrived early in Maine. After old man winter came at Halloween with enough snow to cancel trick or treat, we had one of the mildest winters on record. Remember that cinnamon lettuce from last year? It survived the winter here.
We had such warm weather in March, getting up into the 80s, that we spent time at the beach. Some of our friends actually went swimming in Maine in March. We only dipped our feet in as the water was still quite frigid despite the air temperature.

The spring flowers are blooming earlier than usual, the forsythia is in bloom, and trees are budding. During the warm spell, my wonderful kids raked and cleaned up the garden for me. My son purchased a grape vine and several blueberry bushes he is going to put in soon.

The Egyptian onions and chives are already several inches tall.
Below you see my grandmother's jumbo crocus. These were around her hydrangea tree when I was growing up. She was so proud of them each spring. After she passed away and we were cleaning out the house, I dug some up to plant at my house. Good thing too because the new owners cut down the hydrangea and the remaining crocus are gone. But these bloom on, reminding me of my grandmother every spring.
I also have some tiny daffodils just starting to open up.
As I mentioned, my cats follow me around the garden. Today was no exception as I took photos of the flowers. The calico is Ashley (the boss lady at our house) followed by little Chloe. Note Chloe's cautious look. She has learned to respect the matriarch feline.
But, she refuses to be left out and leaps up into the cherry tree directly above the crocus. I do believe she posed for the camera! She's not going to play second fiddle to the other kitties at our house.
Back to gardening....below you see our indoor seed starts. This year I went with the store bought greenhouse with the pellets. We've had better luck than we did last year using egg cartons but still on some of the seedlings we've noticed that same fuzzy mold and have lost some seedlings that just wither away like they did last year. We will replant some more.  I'll keep you posted.
My kids prepared their raised beds and planted a variety of cool weather seeds.
So that's the update from Maine. As the earth comes to life I'll be posting more regular updates.
Happy Spring!
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