Friday, December 31, 2010

Ending The Garden Year - Starting the Garden Year

Well, it's the last day of the year.  I still can't SEE my garden for the snow (how amazing) but I'm diving into the entertaining process of reviewing this past year's gardens to see how I think they did overall  and I'm starting the always satisfying process of deciding what to change for next year.

We are shrinking our gardens substantially this coming season and my goal will be to become the most efficient gardener I can be.  I don't know about everyone else, but Rob and I really suffered in this past summer's heat.  With luck, this coming year will reward us with beautiful, gentle summer months but, regardless, I find I just can't work in the heat like I used to.  (How on earth we worked in hot high tunnels in the summer months when we had our plant nursery, I can not now imagine.)

So, most of the 12 4'x8' raised beds will be taken out. After ten years, the landscape timbers have gradually softened and rotted away on the bottom. Rather than rebuilding, we are removing.  I've gotten good enough at timing my crop rotations that we are really using only about half of them for veggie crops - the others are "permanent" berry and asparagus plantings which can now go in ground.

I've refined my veggie gardening to those things that I really, really feel I grow better than my farmstand neighbors and those things, like fresh tomatoes and lettuce, that are simply The Best when picked from one's own garden just before eating. As for the rest of the crops, like corn, potatoes, melons and.... zucchini... neighbor-friends that I enjoy are supporting their families and putting their kids through college on those veggies and I am now happy to buy from them.   And have you noticed what a new wealth of vegetables varieties the local farmstands and farmers markets now supply?  It's the result of new, imaginative shoppers who are supporting our local farmers as they expand into more varied "gourmet" varieties of vegetables and fruits!  How cool is that?

All annual plantings possible - well, reasonable -  are moving into the gardens around the house.  I'm even relocating a couple of raised beds smack into the ornamental gardens.  I've been teaching and practicing this technique for several years but am finally making the full commitment.

Edible LandscapingIf you haven't been inspired by reading (or looking at the pictures - we all know how gardeners are) in  Rosalind Creasy's Edible Landscaping books, you'll get inspired by this short article:
This is the author who first got me planting cabbages in the flower bed.
Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, 2nd Revised Edition
I also love this book:  Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn.  What a hoot!  There are so many wonderful edible gardening books - I practically force them on any newbie gardeners who come to the Pungo-Blackwater library.  And if you haven't checked the local libraries in the last few years, you will be awed by the number of gardening, homesteading, chicken-raising, home power and all kinds of self-sufficiency books they now stock (or at least that the VB public libraries carry).  Popular demand, once again!

Anyhow, enough rambling.  What are you going to change in 2011?  New varieties? New gardens?
It's all amazing fun, isn't it?
Happy, happy New Gardening Year!

PS - And this year I really AM resolved that I WILL get my sugar pod peas in early enough but not so early that they don't start well. You can be my witnesses.....  Every year it seems I'm frustrated in one direction or the other - if only our spring weather would be consistent ......  :D

Monday, December 27, 2010

Raised Beds in the Snow....

Find the 14' raised beds (there should be 4 in this photo) and the nice crop of swiss chard that was under the arch....

Bonus points for noticing the hoop house high tunnel in the background.

We've never before had snow deep enough that you could not find the raised beds - and these aren't drifts!

Amazement in the garden! - Sybil

Snowstorms Finally Over in Virginia Beach....

It is beautiful - hope all the farm plants are doing well down in there under the snow. Our little farm looks very pretty with its frosting of snow....

Even though the scenery looks chilly, I know that this snow is actually protecting the more tender plants and is a blessing for the Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana) -- although this shot was taken after I'd already been out TWICE yesterday, knocking about 6" off the plants each time!

This was a "third place" snow of all time - 11.4 on the books and well over my boots here at the farm.  Undaunted, however, we brushed off the Christmas Flamingoes and they are once again bobbing triumphantly at the back door - snow or no snow!

Happy Winter, Everyone!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

God Bless The Little Things

Snow just beginning in Blackwater
"God bless the little things this Christmastide,
All the little wild things that live outside;
Little cold robins and rabbits in the snow,
Give them good faring and a warm place to go
All little young things, for his sake who died,
who was but a little thing at Christmastide."

                  ----  Margaret Murray

A Foot of Snow and more....

This truly has become a Tidewater Blizzard!  I've been out twice to clean the heavy, wet snow off branches of our large-leaved "tropical" trees, like my beloved Loquats, and shaken what I could from the Feijoa and Gardenias.  Everything was bent flat under the weight. The tiny sparrows and chickadees shelter under the umbrella of the Loquats near the porch, appreciating the feeders and the respite from the blowing snow.

Here is Cupcake, the Peacock (named for his favorite food), dashing for the warmth and protection of the chicken coop. 

As I fuss over my chooks and Cupcake, making sure they are snug and safe, I can't help but cast admiring and pitying eyes at the valiant little  sparrows and chickadees, brilliant Cardinals and voracious Mockingbirds - all of whom are cheerfully weathering this storm in the open, hopping about and gobbling up any and all seeds I make available to them. Although I don't  normally "feed birds" on a regular basis, I do put some munchies out during this kind of weather - just to make sure that they have enough energy to stay warm overnight.

My thoughts go out to those who are without shelter during this storm - humans and animals alike, wishing that all of them could have happy, warm homes like ours.

Virginia Beach Blizzard!

We are enjoying a day-after-Christmas whiteout here on the farm.  Made it out during a lull to take treats to the chickens and to refill their regular food containers.  Although a few hardy chooks were ambling about out of the cozy coop, most were content to stay inside out of the wind and snow.

The big surprise of the morning was discovering that my little cheap-o, pocket digital camera was not only taking still photos, but also videos. This was apparently because my awkward, gloved fingers were landing on a button I've never used before.  Who knew???

So, here for everyone's amusement (forgive the waving camera - I had no idea what it was doing) are two unexpected videos:  one of Cuppers (Cupcake) the peacock enjoying the warm coop and another of Mr. Chicken and the girls having a nosh at the in-coop feeder.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow on the Loquats!

Although it still hasn't been enough to cover the ground underneath, the loquats look lovely with their coating of fluffy, white snow.

Sometimes it is just delightful to see the garden covered in white - a cold, peaceful respite from gardening chores.  We are tucked in by the fire, reading and baking holiday cookies. No outside concerns for us today!

Alas for the poor bananas, which, once again, didn't get cut back or covered before the first hard cold.  They do come back regardless but I fear it will be another year before I ever discover how to have fruit.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lovin' Those Loquats!

Every year at this time, there is a special sense of wonder in one area of our farm.  Up against the south-facing side of our pool fence, the row of Loquat trees (Eriobotrya japonica) open their fat clusters of blossoms.  The sweet, slightly vanilla scent fills the air on any warm afternoon.  If you are standing next to or under the trees, the very air vibrates with the humming of hundreds of bees. 

This is one of the few blossoming plants in my neighborhood this time of year and every honeybee for acres around arrives to take delight and sustenance.  As far as I know, none of the immediate neighbors have hives - I haven't seen any on my walks - so these may be long travellers or even "wild" honeybees foraging for some hive hidden in the nearby woods. I'll bet it makes fabulous honey - I've seen Loquat Honey for sale online but never tried it.

I love Loquats.  Their striking, stiff leathery leaves remain all year, similar to Magnolia foliage, and their canopy shelters many small birds during our winter storms.  Loquats have an interesting shape, outstanding in a landscape, and they are truly the queens of the fall/winter ornamental/edible garden. The deep golden orange fruits will ripen from the early spring into the beginning of summer, but only if we don't have a severe frost in late April.

Best of all, to me, is the deep, heart-felt pleasure of standing under a beautiful tree, now many feet above my head, and knowing that this tree is my doing, that it was only a small stick when I brought it here and that the lovely, nodding, verdant tree I admire today is the living embodiment of love and caring, season to season, until today. 

Didn't take as many years as one might think, either.  I'm always saddened when folks tell me they don't want to plant trees because they don't want to "wait for results".  It is not as though there is nothing to love about a tree until the day it is mature! Planting trees is like watching children grow.  They develop, they change, they suffer injury and hardship and, one hopes, recover with new strength.  Every tree has a personality born of the place in which it finds itself.  Unable to move, unable to relocate, it adapts and maneuvers itself into the best possible form it can manage.

I can't even imagine what life is like when one is not mobile, when you can only take what life brings (or refuses to bring) to your small space in the world. And yet the brave plants live, they grow and they become more beautiful than one could hope.  To be a part of that? To watch over, help and encourage such an accomplishment?  Ah, that is the highest a gardener may hope for.

When you feel the need for purpose, I suggest you plant a tree. 
For you, for the world, for the future.  Your future. Your joy.

Don't believe me?  Take a bit of time and read the inspiring story of Wangari Maathai, the woman who has been reclaiming Kenya by teaching women how to plant trees.

Namaste, Sybil