Sunday, January 31, 2010

Che in Snow

Cudrania tricuspidata as snow begins falling....

Frozen Blueberries

Freezing in Virginia Beach

Okay, it's cold out here. 18 degrees F by the recording barn thermometer with about 8" of frozen, crusted snow on the ground. Too cold for me to hike around and take photos, although it is lovely.

The frozen snow will insulate the garden plants, although the higher palms are looking a tad miserable and flat.  We declared an abdication on wrapping  plants a few years ago and now only those hardy enough for our area survive. Amazingly, even the bananas tend to reappear no matter how determinedly we ignore them each winter.

Tiny, delicate sparrows and juncos are cheerfully pecking at the crumbs I scattered about on the top of the snow after feeding the chickens.  The fat, indulgent laying hens refused to set a toe outside the coop and had to be fed inside. Hefty birds with thick feather coats, they're an interesting contrast to the tiny wildlings gathered where ever I have scattered a bit of food. How brave these tiny residents are and how happily they chirp and peck at the treasure they have found in my wake. 

Each year we've planted more plants that carry seeds and berries into the winter - my choice rather than feeding commercial food. And each winter I leave more plants adorned with their seed heads, looking leggy and unkempt, rather than tidily cutting them down and discarding all those bits of wild food. What we lack is good cover, out here in the open fields.  Our pines are planted - may they grow quickly! - and we leave more high weed stands but it's no comparison to the wealth of birds in friend Holly's protected woods.  Out of the winds, birds of all kinds and sized congregate at her feeders.  We settle for the small, hardy adventurers who brave the open to snatch a few precious mouthfuls of food.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Goodbye, Bob Stiffler - We will miss you!

One of my longest gardening friendships has ended with the passing of Bob (Robert J.) Stiffler this morning.  From the time I met Bob, while creating education programs for Norfolk Botanical Garden, I enjoyed his laughter and his gardening companionship.  He and his beautiful wife, Dottie, were the "cupids" who campaigned for the marriage that my darling partner, Rob and I  have enjoyed for what now seems like only a brief moment in time.  

Bob was always determined to keep gardening realistic and practical and, although he and I disagreed on the merits of some plants and on the use of garden chemicals, we both supported common sense gardening methods over fancy theory.  Both Bob and Dottie loved the Norfolk Botanical Garden and were true supporters of community and private gardens throughout Hampton Roads. He loved coming out to our nursery to see what new fruit plants Rob and I were growing - and was suitably amazed when varieties he swore would not be worth growing here flourished and bore fruit.  He would shake his head at my folly and determination and we would both laugh - at ourselves and at how amazing plants can be.  I don't think he ever quite forgave me for having no vole and no deer problems!

Safe passage, old friend - you will be very missed at this farm.
Longtime Pilot Gardening Columnist Dies - PilotOnline

Monday, January 4, 2010

I know I'm not the only person who harbors a daydream of having my own bees happily making honey in the backyard.  We get lots of bees here at the farm since we began encouraging large swaths of clover (rather than mowing that flat golf course lawn everywhere) but we don't have hives of our own. With all the bad news about bee illnesses and failures, I've gotten discouraged about keeping a hive healthy.  But beekeeping friends tell me that it's not the "home hives" that are so desperately precarious, just the ones that get trucked all over to pollinate commercial plantings. Spring is coming....and I'm thinking of bees again.  I may have to scramble some schedules to see if I can't get to this course - even if it's just for the experience and information to be stored "for later".

 Beekeeping Class for Beginners -  The Beekeepers Guild of Southeast Virginia and the Wesleyan Beekeepers Association present a three day Short Course for Beginning Beekeepers.  The course will be held on three consecutive Saturday mornings, February 20, 27, and March 06, 2010 from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia.  The course consists of lectures and hands-on demonstrations. Details are online at the Beekeepers Guild website.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

January is National Mail Order Gardening Month!

Welcome to January - officially National Mail Order Gardening Month! We all should have guessed as much, if your mailbox is as full of seed and plant catalogs as mine is.  Every year I say, "No more! I will use up the seed I have saved and THAT'S IT." And then I begin thumbing through the catalogs, you know - just to see what's new and to remember the names of varieties I fell in love with over past seasons and can no longer name..... and, oh my, look at this new zinnia... and that new lettuce... and, heavens, what a fabulous sunflower....
And it all starts up again. The annual, visionary meditation of spring. I can't plant in this cold, bitter weather but I can jump on my computer, catalog in hand and order seeds! And, oh, the joy of those little packages that will arrive in the mail next month, full of brightly illustrated seed packets. Then the garden designing begins.... what to plant in the raised beds, what along the fence? Which to start in the greenhouse? Which to sow in place?

I'm big on conserving paper and I'm pretty rabid about junk mail but I do, I truly do, love gardening catalogs. I read them all year. I make notes in their margins. I have my favorites with unique tips and recipes - -even favorite illustrators. I will always miss the wonderful Mary Azarian woodcut catalog illustrations  from back when Cooks Garden was an independent business.

So, I will pour a nice, hot cup of tea and find a cozy, sunny spot where I can sit for comfortably to  browse through all the seed catalogs that arrived this week.  And for an hour or two it will be spring, even in January.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Blue Moon

 What a beautiful Blue Moon we all enjoyed this week. Since each month is basically one lunar (moon) cycle and normally contains one full moon, a standard "blue moon" is any second full moon within one month.  In this case, we have had a truly blue moon - both the second full moon in December and also the 13th moon in the year (where normally there would be twelve, just as there are twelve months). So, whatever you have put off into "once in a blue moon".... well, here's your chance.     More on Blue Moons at

Usually in the winter months, the clear calm skies that allow for inspired full moon viewing also indicate severe freezing temperatures but this last moon appeared in an interestingly warm week (relatively speaking) here in coastal Virginia.  We mustn't be fooled, however, the cold Canadian air is falling quickly down the continent and will be here very, very soon.