What is Growing Around the Homestead?

It is officially spring and things are… springing.  Herbaceous perennials are bursting through the soil to see the sun and the gardens are changing quickly.  I find myself wandering around, wondering at the little nubs of plants pushing themselves up after their winter slumber.  I should be weeding, but I am easily distracted by the beauty all around me.

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Stonecrop

The tulips and anemones are blooming now.  Most of the tulips I’ve bought lately have come from a coworker’s daughter selling them as a fundraiser, which beats selling cookie dough and wrapping paper if you ask me.  The only thing is that the colors are a mystery when I receive the bulbs.  I have no way of knowing what they’re going to look like, but I have been pleasantly surprised.

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Tulips

 

 

 

A lot of the plants in my garden are mail ordered, and the company I use usually has a free offer.  I was reluctant to try a Fritillaria imperialis, or Crown Imperial, because I have read from other growers that they can have a rather musky or skunky odor.  Maybe I haven’t brushed up against it enough or have been downwind at the appropriate moment, but I haven’t noticed an odor.  It is a gorgeous plant, though.  Since I have never grown this plant, or anything in it’s immediate family, I read as much as I could about its care.  It is very susceptible to rot if planted with the part of the bulb that produces the stem faces straight up.  I planted the thing on its side and asked it to please grow, but buried it last fall without any real hope that it would survive or grow, but here she is:

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I don’t usually make New Years resolutions aside from just to be happy, but this year I promised myself I was going to make more of an effort in the vegetable garden.  My husband helped me clear some of the building materials out from where they were being stored at each end of the garden thereby creating two new, but narrow, beds.  I plan on putting asparagus crowns in the north bed soon, but for now I am going to grow sunflowers and nasturtiums there.  The south bed is for potatoes this year.

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Basically what we did is till the ground to rid it of grass and weeds, then dumped some composted manure on the bed.  The bed itself is probably about eight feet long and three feet deep.  We purchased a variety of seed potatoes and I placed each on directly onto the prepared surface, then I dumped a forty pound bag of composted manure on each seed potato.  I hollowed out the tops so the plants wouldn’t have too far to go and also so water could collect in the top and sink down gently.  Once leaves and stems are poking up through the holes, I will mound the dirt back over them to protect the potatoes growing beneath.  Have you seen green potatoes in the grocery store, or maybe in your own stored spuds?  Do not eat them.  The green is chlorophyll, which isn’t dangerous, but when they start to produce that, they produce the poison solanine.  After I mound up the rest of the dirt, I will cover the whole bit with straw as mulch and additional anti-sun protection.  Between the potatoes and the other beds, I will plant zinnias to help attract pollinators to the garden.

This year we will try to grow strawberries again.  We attempted to do so when we first moved in, but a number of factors led to our failure, mostly lack of air circulation and planting them too closely together.  I took an idea I saw online and am growing them in my raised bed that I recently renovated.  It used to have a simple wooden frame, but that fell apart from years of freezing, heaving, being hit by the mower, etc.  The new bed is lined by cinder blocks and pavers.  I planted ten Ozark Beauty plants in the holes in the cinder blocks.  We’ll see how that works.

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The bed also contains some garlic that volunteered from last year, some peonies, some Coreopsis verticillata (aka threadleaf coreopsis), and Belladonna lilies.  I am also adding a rose.  Strawberries and roses can share diseases, so it’s best if they have separate soil.  The photo above shows the strawberries freshly planted.  As of “press time”, the leaves have opened and they are making themselves quite at home.

The garlic I planted last fall is looking good.  I usually plant my garlic just after the full moon in October or November.  This year I have to varieties in the ground: Inchelium Red and Siberian.  One is a soft neck variety (Inchelium) and the other is a hard neck.  Basically, the hard neck varieties will produce scapes in the spring, or flower stalks.  There has been much debate on whether removing the scapes helps produce larger heads of garlic or not, but if you do remove them, you can make many delicious things with them.  Grind them up to make pesto, chop them small and add them to stir fry or eggs, or just throw them in with your ingredients next time you make stock.  Hard neck varieties tend to grow better in colder climates, and soft necks in warmer.  I’m here in Kansas and so I just grow both.  Soft neck varieties tend to store longer, and Inchelium Red’s flavor becomes more intense with storage.

In order to save some money and use up any and all scraps that don’t go to the chickens, pieces of plants I prune, grass clippings, deadheads, etc, I have started a compost heap.  It started with all the weeds and marigolds from last year’s garden, which I let lay fallow, followed with lots of kitchen scraps (onions and things like that which the chickens can’t eat), and topped with the bedding from the coop.  I have named her Margery: The Almighty Trash Heap.  What?  I grew up on the Muppets.

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The last little bit of growing going on around here.  Last week I could hear a kitten crying.  It was coming from my neighbors house’s direction.  Not wanting to just go poking around their house, I knocked on the front door and asked if they had a cat.  They said yes, that it was safely enjoying the nice weather on their back porch.  I explained about the crying and was given permission to investigate.  In a hole in the retaining wall next to their house, a cat had had her kittens.  I heard a growl, looked down and saw her sea green eyes staring back at me.  I found the kitten that had fallen out of her little den and placed her back inside.  I told my neighbors what I’d found and went back home.  The other day, my husband noticed her walking by carrying a kitten.  She and her little family have taken up residence in my potting shed.  I make her scrambled eggs, because nursing kittens seems like hard work, especially for a homeless single mother.  I hope she stays around because we have pack rats that sometimes live in our garage.

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Awaiting Springtime’s Bounty

I’m itching to get my fingers into the dirt!

It’s that time of year when it feel like it’s never going to be warm again.  Everything outside looks dead, but my fingers are itching to get into the dirt.  Seed catalogs come in the mail and make me even more anxious.  I have too many seeds, but it doesn’t stop me from plotting and planning.  What shall we do with the vegetable garden this year?

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Lettuces, carrots, and onions

I always plant tomatoes.  Okay, last year I didn’t.  I let my whole veggie patch go fallow last year and it was overtaken by marigold volunteers.  I usually have some in the garden for 11231153_10204950992394921_9133310131842336802_ntheir benefits to the soil and pollinating insects, and I expect to be fighting them this year for space.  Our favorite variety of cherry tomato is SunGold.  It’s a hybrid, and they are golden, sweet, and not too acidic and always do pretty well in the garden.  For some reason, larger varieties of tomatoes don’t do so well, but I suspect my soil is missing something.  I’m not the best gardener in the world and I’ve never tested my soil, so I’m not sure that that is.  This year I plan on fixing that by buying a test kit and I’ve got a nice, big compost pile started, safely fenced off from the chickens, for adding some good organic matter to the soil.  As for large tomato varieties, I can recommend Cherokee Purple.  I grew exactly one fruit a few years ago.  It’s sweet and meaty and quite attractive.  This year I am trying a variety of heirlooms, starting them by winter sowing.  It’s an experiment, but I hope to at least have eight plants come from it.  I’ll be sure to review them as they ripen, if they do.

My favorite spring crop are the radishes – the hotter the better.  I plan13263767_10206843397063855_1495148228751087213_nt Sparkler and Icicle, along with some milder varieties for my husband who is not as big a fan of their creep-up-the-back-of-your-nose hotness as I am.  I purchased a “rainbow mix” to grow this year, along with the same of carrots and beets.  I hope to have a very colorful garden this year.

Cherries are usually doing pretty well by this time, too.  Last year we had a problem with some kind of worm getting inside the fruit.  I need to do more research on what they could be so we can be sure to avoid them this year.  You can still use the cherries, it’s just kinda gross cutting the pit out and discarding the worm.  The chickens are happy, though – they get the bruised and otherwise damaged fruit.  We grow a dwarf variety called North Star which are tart and perfect for pies.  Or jams.  Or just eating and puckering up your face.

The chickens start laying again in the spring.  I don’t provide supplemental light so their bodies can rest during the winter.  They spend a lot of energy laying eggs in the summertime and molting in the fall, so I feel they deserve the break.  Spring brings an explosion of egg laying, though.  12885976_10206411646910371_7132103860031662715_o.jpg I have two hens that go broody, which is a condition brought on by hormones that causes them to want to sit on a clutch and raise some babies.  Incubation is 21 days after a period of laying up to twenty eggs, depending on breed.  They don’t lay during this time, but I have seven other girls who will continue to lay, so it’s all good.  The breeds I have lay a variety of colored eggs – everything from a gorgeous blue to green, speckled brown to a smooth, finely textured tan.

221853_1749864946808_1016640_n.jpgSpring also brings out a fungi that is worth it’s weight in gold.  Like I’ve said, I don’t know if they even grow on my property, but I have good friends at work who sometimes share their treasure with us.  I speak of morels.  Driving through the country you will often see trucks and cars parked along the side of the road by a field or a stream with the driver nowhere to be seen.  That person is out hunting these gems.  They can be worth some serious cash if you can find a buyer, which isn’t usually difficult, sometimes going for over eight dollars a pound.

The chives start blooming around this time, too.  We like to add their11060315_10204411304863070_5466732164243744641_n.jpg spicy flowers to salads and decorate deviled eggs with them.  Their purple, star-shaped flowers have an onion taste like the green parts, but with just a hint of sweetness.  I grow them for their flavor, but they are also a very pretty plant with their blueish hue and spiky texture.  These grow in my flower bed, and they look lovely with broad leafed plants and set off the white columbines planted nearby quite nicely.

By June, the garlic I13501704_10207016804758939_5247774945107009932_n.jpg‘d planted the previous fall is about ready.  This year, I will have a harvest of Inchelium Red and Siberian.  The Inchelium is a softneck variety that comes from the Colville Reservation in Washington State and is a very mild garlic that stores for up to nine months, all the while the flavor intensifies.  Siberian is a hardneck variety that is on the spicy side, which we use up pretty fast.  The Siberian grows scapes, which I harvest for cooking.  You can also make a delicious pesto with them.  Some people say that removing the scapes makes for larger bulbs, but I don’t think that is conclusive.  Most of my garlic ends up roasted and spread on toast, or mashed into potatoes, or in tomato sauce.  We use garlic for everything, and usually a lot of it.  When I see a recipe calling for a single clove of garlic, I scoff.  SCOFF.  And then add two to three more cloves.