Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A 24 Carrot St. Patty's Day

What a day. It's the day before St. Patrick's Day and a beautiful sunshiny day that just demands work out in the garden. While Jim planted stakes for our fruit trees to be shipped soon, and strung the lines to provide support for the growing grapevines, I worked in the garden. The snow's melted off at last and I pulled the plastic off the raised beds I planted last fall to find that I have tiny plants coming up under there! We have collards and lettuces, spinach, onion and garlic. What a bounty! Small, but it's a start.
I cleaned out the tiniest raised bed of ours to ready it to put the cabbage and broccoli plants from the greenhouse to start them early. They're tough, and able to cope with the cold weather to come. As I worked to loosten the soil to put in the plants, I found all those tiny carrots I left in the ground in the fall. They were too small at that time, so I left them in the sandy soil to grow over the winter. What a delicious bounty! I found a lot of carrots in really uneven sizes and shapes, and three big onions, along with a lot of happy, contented earthworms keeping the soil loose and healthy. The carrots smelled deliciously like sweet carrot and fresh earth and went along with tonight's corned beef and cabbage, our, "almost St. Patrick's Day" celebratory meal. Jim cooks this meal by tradition, and it was even better than usual.I pulled all the carrots and planted that little bed with tiny cabbage and broccoli plants and watered the other plants in the bigger bed to encourage them for early season growth.Dinner was delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed it with a big glass of red wine. The Guinness will wait until tomorrow night at our favorite Irish Pub, Kate's in New Carlisle.
Tomorrow's the big day. Ever since our honeymoon trip to the Emerald Isle, we take our Irish holiday seriously around here and want to wish you the best: friends who wish you well, someone to swap stories with, as well as a brimming glass of something delicious to enjoy on this beloved Irish Holiday. And, since we've actually kissed the Blarney stone, we wish you a touch of the magic of the Emerald Isle-may you have the skill to give tongue to intriguing stores and entertaining lies and truth. You choose which!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring Workday

Yesterday it was warmish and sunny at last and we burst outside in a huge rush of energy and desire to work on growing things. I pruned the blueberries, turning this-Into this-

and just repeating the process 12 more times to end up with 13 properly pruned blueberry bushes for delicious berries in July and August. They'll only produce berries on the newer wood, so each year we have to remove about 1/3 of the older branches. Then Jim picked up the prunings and piled them in the woods, to make another safe harbor for the rabbits to make a home in.
He dug a hole and put up a pole for one end of the new grape arbor. Digging a hole-a little deeper-and adding cement to secure the vertical in place. Our vines are growing each year and need a good strong support. He'll string a braided wire cable, covered in plastic that should stand up to many years of weather and heavy, delicious grapes.

What a terrific day. We've ordered a composting worm bed and it arrived Monday, we readied it and the worms arrived yesterday.

10,000 worms!

We opened the box and sprinkled them on top of the prepared bedding and they burrowed right down in and started munching the stuff up.
The whole assembly will sit in a corner of the greenhouse and make wonderful black gold fertilizer for us to use on our plants indoors and out.

It sure felt good to get so much done.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

More Signs of Spring

They're subtle, but the signs are there if you look close, to see spring working it's way out from under this dirty white blanket everywhere. While out yesterday morning gathering sap from our maple trees, I spotted this small spot of snowdrops bravely making their way out of the snow, and ran for the camera.I spotted a robin trolling through the grass in an open spot, but he flew away before I could capture his welcome image. Nearby was the the very last remnant of the tallest snowman Jim and Anna built.The last pale leaves of the beech trees add an elfin woods look to contrast with the darker evergreens behind it.Each day, we hear sandhill cranes with their high, wild call winging north high overhead. On the path, the moss is growing brighter green with each day.In front of the house, the tulips and the dead nettle are reaching for the sunInside the greenhouse, the daffodil bulbs that we missed when we dug out the dirt to lay the bricks are forcing their way up.Wigelia and forsythia buds are swelling. I snipped some of these to force bloom inside.And most beautiful of all, last night a fog rolled in, making everything soft and mysterious. The snow on the ground seems to absorb the light and make this photograph much lighter than it actually was. In the foreground, Anna's swing waits summer play, while in the background the barrel cooker and the wayside building shelter tables, tents and cooking equipment for warmer days' fun.Our home is on a popular route for bicyclists and riders are a frequent sight, as they make their way past. They come in all sizes and shapes, from grandma and grandpa with the kids all riding together, to the most exotic lycra-clad modernist with all the latest gear. Yesterday I saw my first of that breed, decked out in brilliant lime green lycra riding an ultra-light mountain bike. He looked like a blossom, all by himself.

It feels like our whole world these days is gathering energy for that annual joyous rush of new life. I can feel my mood and energy level swinging into that lighter feeling too-how could I not?

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Tapping the Trees for Liquid Gold

Each Spring, we tap our maple trees and make maple syrup. It's a good exercise for us, walking those cold woods early in the year when we need it the most. Once we get some syrup ready, we have the family out for pancakes with maple syrup and blueberry syrup from our fall berries.
This year we were concentrating on the greenhouse progress, and almost let the season get away from us. You have to tap maple trees that are at least 6" in diameter, when the weather is warming to above freezing during the day, and below freezing at night. That way you can harvest the sap as it moves up and down the tree trunk each day. Once the trees "bud out" meaning those little branch tip buds swell, the season is over and any sap taken has a green and funky taste.
Many of our bigger trees here are already budded out so it's too late for them this year, so we had to roam out in the woods, searching for shorter trees that couldn't reach so far into the sun, or had lots of shade on them. We found a few, and yesterday afternoon, tapped into them.
First Jim drills a hole about an inch and a half into the bark. We used to use metal spiles, the very old kind, but then moved to hand-whittled ones out of sumac, and then to just using tubing. This year, Kim gave me her excess plastic tubing from her c-pap machine, and it worked just great! Thanks Kim! We were able to make a smaller hole in the tree, seal the hole with the larger end of the tube, and snake the thin hose right down into the plastic jugs we tie to the tree.
It was cold out yesterday, a crisp shivery walk in the woods to hang our jugs. The pictures show Jim drilling the holes, a hole just dropping a drip of clear sap, the first run of sap filling a tube, and the whole assembly ready to go, with last year's healed tapping scar just to the right of this year's hole.
This morning, I went out with my bucket to see what nature had left for us in the jugs. The sun was low in the sky and the shadows on the sparkling snow stretching long and blue between the trees. This jug had about 2" of sap in the bottom of the jug, and more was frozen in the tube on its way down. I just left them all in place, and this afternoon when its warm and everything's running, Anna and I will go out and harvest the first run of sap.
Then we'll have days of trudging out there at least twice a day to collect that clear, sparkling tree juice to boil down into amber colored syrup. Yummmmm

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sometimes Dreams Do Come True!

We love gardening here, and winters are tough. The older we get, the longer these cold snowy winters seem to get. About two years ago, we were sitting by the fire one night, enjoying our evening glass of wine, when we'd been mostly inside hiding from the weather for days, and we started talking about how nice it'd be to put up a little greenhouse on the south side of the house.
On cold, but sunny days, we could sit out there in the bright winter sunshine and soak up some of those much needed rays, set up a little table to have lunch on warm days and read gardening magazines and seed catalogs and think about spring. Hopefully as the season moves on, it'll get hot enough out there to vent warmth into the house and save on the heating bill. Well, it took us about two years, but yesterday that dream came true!
We ran some errands in the morning and when we got home the sun had finally climbed high enough in the sky to clear the tall trees on the neighbor's property and warm that wonderful greenhouse space to 74 degrees! Outside we still have about 6" of snow. Inside it was humid, and smelled like dirt and all the green growing things it was going to be possible to grow in there. How wonderful!
We already have lots of cool weather plants started, and they're coming long, but for me the highlight of the day was my lunch out in the greenhouse. I made a beautiful salad and took my Organic Gardening magazine and favorite seed catalog and just basked in the sunshine.
Life is very good, especially when you have a terrific husband who listens to your dreams, makes them his own too, and best of all--makes them come true! Thank you Jim, for the sunshine and joy that you've brought into my life in so many ways.