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Posts Tagged ‘winter’

Sunflowers in Winter

Sunflowers in bloom

A farmer’s field of sunflowers in bloom in 2015. This is one of three fields the farmer uses for sunflowers, planting only one field each year.

If you like to take photographs—and, I think, particularly if you think of yourself as a photographer—you might find it difficult simply to drive past a field of sunflowers. I’ve seen dozens of gorgeous photographs taken by other photographers of these magnificent fields. What’s more, I’ve stopped two or three times a year for, perhaps, seven years to try to capture the quintessential sunflower field photograph.

I haven’t gotten close. Turns out, I’m not all that skilled a photographer. Still, I’ve nabbed a few decent photos of sunflower fields, and I’ll continue to stop and shoot whenever the opportunity arises.

Just three days ago I had such an opportunity. Never mind it’s mid-winter in central Pennsylvania. I took a side road to the grocery store, turned onto a side road of the side road to photograph a stately oak tree in a farmer’s field, and unexpectedly came upon a field of sunflowers.

In the spirit of raising spirits (seems to be a thing this time of year), I decided to photograph the sunflowers and share them on my blog. Mid-winter sunflowers can be quite striking. I hope you agree. So nice that only six weeks remain until spring.

Sunflowers in winter

A field of sunflowers in winter isn’t particularly eye-catching. I was surprised to see the farmer hadn’t harvested the seed heads from this field; there were plenty there for song birds. I captured many photos and left longing just a bit more for spring.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Sunflowers in Winter

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Winter Not Here, Too

Typical mid-December snow in central PA

For contrast, behold December 14, 2014. This wasn’t the first snow of that season. In fact, we’d had an otherworldly freeze in November that foreshadowed the miserable sustained cold to come.

Nearly every gardener in the United States in winter of 2014-2015 marveled at the crazy weather. Some areas—the Pacific Northwest, for example—experienced crazy, spring-and summer-like weather in what are typically the coldest months. In the Northeast, we had an unbroken string of days so cold that perennials thought they’d moved two hardiness zones north.

Here we go again. But this winter’s reports are different. Gardeners everywhere have been reporting on annuals going strong well into December—annuals that would typically wither and die in October and November. Gardeners have also reported perennials in bloom either way later than they should be, or way earlier.

It’s my turn!

Hardy perennials in a mild winter

While I garden to grow food, I’m paying more and more attention to ornamental plants. In the past few years, my wife and I have added quite a few. My flowering perennials have been just as confused by the weather as so many other perennials across the country. Photos tell the story.

Early winter viola bud

This year, eight days farther into December than last year’s snowy photo above, the newest variety of viola I set in the garden in autumn was still producing buds.

Early winter viola blossom

On December 27, my three-year-old viola patch sported blossoms. It didn’t give up until biting cold arrived in early January.

Jolt Pink Dianthus blooming in winter

The All-America Selections winner I acquired at a trade show in 2015 is a dianthus (Jolt Pink F1) that didn’t come with a cold hardiness rating. It looked good in the garden all summer and fall, and had a few blossoms on December 27. Even after low temperatures in the teens, it is holding onto blossoms. I suspect it will continue producing in 2016.

Early-blooming hellebore

Not a late blossom, but rather a very early blossom. I started with hellebores three seasons ago and added two new plants last summer. In my experience, hellebores (you might know them as Lenten Rose or Christmas Rose) bloom about when crocuses bloom—perhaps lagging by a few days. However, I’ve seen hellebore blossoms poking out from snow banks with no crocuses in site. I’d guess different varieties of hellebores blossom at different times. Seeing mine in bloom on December 27 was a surprise. One of my older plants has already put out a dozen or so pink buds, but it did that last winter as well and none opened until March.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Winter Not Here, Too

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Don’t Freeze Ya Freesias

NOT Freesia season

The coldest days of winter and a typical central Pennsylvania snow reaffirm the area’s USDA hardiness zone rating. Freesias would not survive this winter outdoors.

Freesias! I took a flier last spring and bought a package of freesia bulbs on closeout. I’ve never grown freesias. I couldn’t have identified them had someone led me to a freesia patch to harvest a few for a bouquet.

Knowing so little about them, I planted twelve freesia bulbs according to instructions on the package: buried many inches deep in a 12-inch container. In a few weeks, exactly two plants emerged. Eventually they blossomed and I fell in love with their fragrance; freesias smell like flowers, but not like any I’d sniffed previously.

By summer’s end, the two freesia plants were done. The temperature dropped, a few weeds sprouted in the freesia planter, and one day three new freesia sprouts appeared. This was an aha moment! Freesias, apparently, draw motivation to sprout from a mild cold spell. The package had identified freesias as annuals in my hardiness zone, so I suspect a freeze would have killed the bulbs. But they were far from dead; there had been no freeze.

Still knowing little about freesias (you’d think I could read something), I guessed that sprouting in autumn and then being put into cold storage would overtax the bulbs. Now that they’d sprouted, I figured they’d need to mature and recharge themselves to make it through a dormant period.

Being uncommitted to ornamental plants, the most I was willing to offer was a place on the sill of a south-facing window. The freesias have persevered! Seven bulbs sprouted and have grown gangly leaves that hardly hold themselves upright.

I’ve watered occasionally and broken off a dandelion whose tap root has a death grip in the soil. Other than that, I paid no mind.

Until last week.

Freesia blossom

It’s so dark in the basement where my freesia pot sits on a windowsill that there’s barely enough light to take photographs. Still, the plants are abloom and the basement room is redolent of spring.

Freesias in Winter

Two weeks ago I brought an assortment of plants back from MANTS, a horticulture industry trade show in Baltimore. I set the plants on our ping-pong table which catches some light from the south-facing window where the freesias sit. As I was setting up electric lights for those plants about five days ago, I noticed the scent of spring! Sure enough, there was a blossom on one of the freesia plants.

My freesia planter sports two sun-starved flower stalks laden with buds. Five days after the first bud opened, a second is about to burst. It seems likely the blooms will continue until it’s safe to move the planter outside.

The lifecycles of my freesia plants, I’m sure, are severely screwed up, but that will remain their problem. I’ll move the planter outside in spring and back in autumn. If the plants eventually synch with the seasons, I’ll give them a cool, dark corner to winter over next year. Otherwise, I suppose they’re doomed each year to grow gangly and watch from my south-facing window while the snows fall.

http://www.smallkitchengarden.net/gardening/dont-freeze-ya-freesias

 

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Thanks to Readers of Your Small Kitchen Garden

What may have been the last significant snow of this winter clung to branches, closed schools, and made it hard to believe it’s almost time to start seeds indoors.

Your Small Kitchen Garden’s 2011 seed giveaway is done; it closed on Sunday the 13th. and seeds went in the mail on the 22nd. Why the delay? It had to do with an ear and sinus infection. I’m feeling better, thanks, and finally getting back in stride.

Comments on Your Small Kitchen Garden

One great pleasure of running a giveaway is that it usually results in visitors leaving more than the typical number of comments on my blog. For this year’s giveaway, I included in the instruction …and make me laugh. I’m so pleased to report that some of the participants succeeded!

Had I been healthy, I’d have commented on comments as they came in. To make up for the dereliction, I thought I’d offer responses here:

Leslie (aka feralchick) – I’m sorry the squirrels beat up your garden last year and am pleased to be able to resupply you with seeds this year. Good luck with the squirrel-deterrent system. Are they using lasers in those things yet?

Renee – I loved the woodchuck photos… they made me laugh. I hope I find time this year to post the woodchuck videos I shot two seasons ago. Such persistent critters!

Cindy Scott Day – Good luck with the squash this year. Bugs were amazing last summer, but I’m surprised you didn’t have any luck with the neck pumpkins; they seem as hardy as butternut.

shala_darkstone – I hope you find room for winter squash this season. They tend to take a lot more space than summer squashes, but they’re so much squashier I can’t imagine my small kitchen garden without them.

Diana – Nice to see you back. Sorry, I’ve sent tomato, neck pumpkin, and blue Hubbard squash seeds… just got carried away. If you can’t use them all, I hope you know other local kitchen gardeners who might.

Nell – I hope you have great luck with blue Hubbard; they are truly amazing when they grow up. Blue Hubbard are very susceptible to squash vine borers, so planting late or keeping the plants under row covers may be necessary.

A lone tree stands in a winter-chilled cornfield. It’s nice to package vegetable seeds and muse about spring.

Justine – Sounds as though your first garden was quite ambitious. I’m so glad to hear that you garden to preserve… my book about preserving produce should be in distribution in a matter of days—I put up many gallons of produce every year. Good luck with the tomato seeds; they produce tomatoes ideal for saucing.

Sherry – I’m touched to hear that you have my blog’s feed posted on your blog. I’m sorry I don’t keep it more lively… frequency ought to improve a bit this year as I don’t expect to be writing a book. I never found a “contact us” form with your mailing address in it… I sent a note via email, but I’m mentioning it here in case you missed the email. Please drop me your mailing address so I can send along your seeds!

Salman – I would love to see photos of squash growing in your garden. Alas, I explained in the original post: I won’t ship seeds to other countries (there are usually restrictions on importing agricultural products). I hope you find a local source for winter squash seeds and that you grow a terrific crop.

Jenna Z – If you’ve poked around in my various blogs, you might have discovered my great enthusiasm for squashes. I like ornamental gourds as well, but I can’t admit in a public forum that I actually plant stuff I’m not going to eat. I hope you have good luck with the seeds and I’ll look forward to any reports you might post.

Tom M – I hope that at least the neck pumpkins perform the way you’d like. I’m also frustrated by squash’s susceptibility to disease and insects—especially to insects. Here’s hoping we both have a great winter squash year.

nicky – Hey, you! Grow squash and tomatoes. The only decision will be where to plant them. I hope you’ll share your experiences as the season rolls along. Good luck!

meemsnyc – Romas! Funny they didn’t work out for you. I always thought Romas were a no-brainer of the tomato family. Perhaps these weird paste tomatoes will give you better luck. Please drop by in the fall and let me know how things worked out.

Doe you find time for recreation when your cornfield is under snow? Maybe a little, but farmers use the winter months to repair equipment, do maintenance on their buildings, and plan for the upcoming season.

Bren – I’ll try the spray bottle thing this year. Last year I stopped aphids with a spray bottle of garlic oil, water, and soap; why not Squash Vine Borers? Was your story silly? The question was, and that’ll do just fine

Annie Haven/Authentic Haven Brand – You’re far enough up the list to get a complete set of seeds. I hope you have great luck with them… the tomatoes and neck pumpkins have been cake for me; the blue Hubbard is challenging. Good luck!

TZ – Depending on the weather, it seems squash and pumpkins are eager to die those horrible deaths. Butternut and Neck Pumpkin remain the hardiest, most pest-resistant varieties I’ve seen. I hope yours do well. That’s a nice sequence of photos explaining how you collect tomato seeds over on Flickr.

erynia – How nice to meet another fan of Gardenmom29! One strategy I tried for “expanding” my garden last year was to plant the space hogs near one end. I trained the squash vines over and through the garden fence and onto the compost heap. I may plant squash this year where a vegetable bed abuts one of my wife’s ornamental beds. The squash vines could serve as “mulch” around long-stemmed flowers.

Dakota – Thank you for the fire ants story. I really wanted to laugh, but instead I felt the deep despair of human tragedy. I feel self-conscious at Buster Keaton flicks because while the rest of the audience laughs, I choke up at all the horrible things he endures. Those AFV videos in which someone rides a bike off a cliff or faceplants off a trampoline? I don’t laugh, I cringe. So, I thought somber thoughts about your toosh as I packaged and mailed your seeds. I’m a simple person; I look for humor in corny garden jokes.

robbie – I hope you have great success growing tomatoes from seed. I’ll be starting mine indoors in about 2 weeks.

Jennifer – And you actually got squash off of last year’s Blue Hubbard plants! I’m quite jealous. This year, I will vanquish the Squash Vine Borers and bring Blue Hubbards out of the battle zone: mature and ready for the kitchen!

Mika – I hope you haven’t cried yourself to sleep over vegetable seeds. Thank goodness for the footnote in your comment… I was feeling all teary that my seed giveaway caused you such stress, but the footnote at least gave me hope that you might have been kidding.

Sonya – I laughed, I cried, I relived the terror of Boston in February, 2011. To borrow a line from VA Nuresmy: And, the fishing episode! We missed all but about 14 inches of the snow you folks hoarded. Even so, I’m hankering for some time with the soil. That wilty grayish powdery thing you described sounds like a damp growing season… or so many squash bugs that their activity promoted mold (which might have appeared about the time the leaves crossed over anyway). With a lot of bugs chomping on the leaves, sap can accumulate and provide a great breeding medium for mold. Sorry you had problems last year; I hope things work out better this year.

Jennie – I love your tomato-growing experience! I plant 8-foot stakes, leaving about 7 feet of vertical support. The plants usually grow 3 or 4 feet beyond the supports; they’d easily reach a first floor roof. Visitors from NY watched me setting my 8-foot stakes and were incredulous that I’d need anything so tall. I guess the shorter growing season up there means shorter tomato plants.

circulating – I recommend not growing vegetables out of any wazoo. Of course, they’re your vegetables, and it’s your wazoo, so do what makes you happy. Whatever planter you use, I wish you good luck with the seeds!

Hedgerows often mark propery lines or provide windblocks for farmers’ fields. A pair of hedgerows can conceal a farm road. I’m sure this road will see much more traffic once the snow melts.

Joyce Pinson – I hope you have better luck with the Blue Hubbard than I had last year. They are such awesome vegetables! Thanks for your comment about my book. I learned today that it’s being bound so copies should be in circulation later this week. So cool!

Marsha Hubler – That first year of wrestling with rocky soil would lead me either to experiment extensively with potatoes and tomatoes, or to establish raised beds and make a whole bunch of compost. Even a few 5-gallon planters on a deck or along a walkway could provide a steady supply of fresh veggies. These days, people set up hay or straw bales and plant veggies in them—apparently adequate to raise all kinds of foods to maturity.

Trent – I so hope that when you say “hanging tomato planters” you don’t mean “upside down tomato planters.” OK… we can still be friends, but it saddens me a bit to think the progeny of my tomato plants may grow up hanging from their toes. I hope you have better luck with your torture planters than I had when I grew tomatoes upside down.

lauranot – I’m glad you got in on time for the giveaway. “Sugar Snacker” is an awesome name for a tomato. I decided to stop growing cherry tomatoes after the 8th or 9th generation descended from plants I set some 12 years ago failed to reseed themselves.

Thank you so much for participating in my seed giveaway. I hope all you kitchen gardeners harvest lots of awesome produce this season.

 

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Readying for Go in my Small Kitchen Garden

We got a little snow in early January, and later a second storm added several more inches. Rain at the end of the last snowfall turned it all into a four-inch layer of crust.

For nearly a month my small kitchen garden and all the land surrounding it has been covered in a four-inch thick iced-snow permafrost kind of thingy. There was snow, then there was rain, and then there was cold. For a while, the crust wouldn’t hold my dog’s weight and she was obviously distressed by it. Eventually, sunny but very cold days extended the crust through to the ground; we have been walking on ice.

Today, on the closing day of my seed giveaway, the temperature pushed above 40F degrees! That was enough to soften the ice cap all the way to the ground… and it was enough to bring the rabbits out of their holes. As Cocoa and I stepped out the door, we spotted one just beyond the blueberry scrubs at the edge of the yard.

Readying to Start Seeds in my Small Kitchen Garden

With rabbits out of their holes, it’s time for me to get my garden plans in line. I explained various seed-starting strategies and described my seed-starting shelf in a series of posts in February of 2010. For a thorough overview, visit each link listed in the box titled, Strategies for Starting Your Small Kitchen Garden… I’ve listed them in the order I posted them. Note that this year I’m not using peat pellets or peat pots on my seed-starting shelf.

What am I doing to prepare? I’ve four tasks:

1. Clear the seed-starting shelf—My larder is fuller this year than it was last year. That’s because I wrote a book about preserving garden produce, and I canned a lot more fruits and vegetables last year than I had in preceding years. So, with all the canned goods cluttering my shelves, it’ll take an hour or so to rearrange things and hang the light fixtures that will warm my planters and feed my seedlings.

With a light crust on the snow, Cocoa preferred to hunt rabbits from the safety of the sofa in front of the picture window. Today’s higher temperature loosened the snow pack, and finally Cocoa spotted her first rabbit of the year.

2. Collect seed- starting containers—I’m done with peat pellets, and I’m done with peat pots. This year I’m doing all my seed starts in cut-up plastic milk jugs. Reasons 1: Peat pellets are simple and convenient for starting seeds, but not so good for sustaining seedlings. Once a seedling’s roots fill the pellet, you must transplant to the garden, “pot-up” the seedlings, or fertilize them to keep them healthy. Reason 2: To start seeds in any kind of pot, you need soil as well… so I have to buy soil; I can reduce expenses by not buying pots.

3. Ordering seeds—Yikes! I’m on the late side for this little task. In fact, I’ve heard some popular vegetable seeds are already hard to find. I’m looking for a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and for brands of broccoli and cauliflower that perform better than what I planted last year. I’m also very tempted to start artichokes indoors, move them outdoors in April, and see whether I can harvest a few by season’s end.

4. Well… buy seed-starting soil—I have some left from last year, and the nursery where I shop won’t open until mid-March, so no hurry on this one.

 

 

 

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Sixty Rabbits from Your Small Kitchen Garden

I lack enthusiasm for weeding, so it might be hard to distinguish the food from the future compost in this photo. However, you can spot a spinach leaf in the foreground at the bottom of the frame under the rabbit’s eye; the rabbit is not eating it. This rabbit raised rabbit calves in my garden and left no evidence of munching on any of my vegetables.

How does this kitchen gardener amuse himself when his small kitchen garden is rock-hard frozen solid? For a day or two each year, he attends the Pennsylvania Farm Show. This year, he spent a lot of time among the rabbits. Rabbits?

Well… Your Small Kitchen Garden has quite a history with rabbits. In at least four of the sixteen springs I’ve grown produce in central Pennsylvania, rabbits have nested in my garden bed before I’ve started working it. Last spring I posted a photo of newborn rabbits I found while assessing my home kitchen garden.

Rabbits: Bane or Baloney?

Rabbits get bad raps from gardeners. I’m sure rabbits deserve their reputation, but I often speak in defense of the rabbits in my neighborhood. To begin, those rabbits are adorable. There are an awful lot of them, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to watch them in my yard and garden.

I have never seen a rabbit eat any of my produce. I’ve had mother rabbits raise their puppies inside my rabbit fence and I’ve watched them sit among young lettuce and spinach plants without taking a nibble. I once watched a mature rabbit rest on my spinach as it devoured the flower stalks from a dandelion plant growing alongside the spinach plants.

In one day a woodchuck did more damage to my garden than all the rabbits have done in 16 years. Still, I don’t trust rabbits, so I’m glad that my woodchuck fence keeps them out. This one spent many minutes circling the garden and peering through the fence… it was adorable and entertaining.

My carrot tops have succumbed to rodents—in a single afternoon, something cut the greens to half their original heights in an entire 14 foot long row. I assumed rabbits were the culprits until I caught a woodchuck in the act the next day.

A Salute to Rabbits

I’m sure rabbits do an enormous amount of damage in kitchen gardens the world over… they have probably damaged my garden. However, as I said, I’ve never seen them eat my produce so I have no animosity toward them. And, since I find rabbits adorable to look at, it was great sport to hang out among the rabbits at the Farm Show.

I’m also pleased to know several rabbit owners through social networking. With them in mind, and as acknowledgement for the role rabbits play in so many kitchen gardener’s lives, I put together a video titled Sixty Rabbits. Long-time readers of this blog might remember last year’s Sixty Chickens video; this one is quite similar. It runs about three and a half minutes. I hope you enjoy it:

 

 

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