Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Veggie Quest Begins Anew

There might be snow on the ground now, but recent spells of spring-like weather have me in the mood to plant!  Even though I really do have plenty of time before spring truly arrives, I feel a little behind this year, as I am still deciding my seed orders for this year's upcoming vegetable garden.

last year's 'Mammoth Melting Sugar' Snow Peas
So how did last year's garden go?  It's evaluation time!

veggie garden 2017
The season began for me in early March with the starting of the onion seeds.  It was the first time I had started them from seed...

onion seedlings
...and it possibly might be the last.  It's just so much easier to order a bunch of seedlings, honestly.  I've heard that one can grow bigger onions by using seeds, and I'm sure that is true, but I started the seeds on the late side due to travels and ended up with the same size of onions as always.  I usually grow red storage-type onions, which lasts us through most of the winter.

'Red Hawk' onions
This year I was very excited to also grow Egyptian Walking Onions, aka Tree Onions.  They are a perennial onion, and one can eat the bulb, the stalk, or the bulblets that form on top.  They are called 'walking onions' because the bulblets weigh down the stalk, bending it down to the earth so that the bulblets can root.  Thus the plant slowly 'walks' to spread to other areas.  You can see a couple of the stalks in the picture below already bending down to start their stroll.

Egyptian Walking Onion
This year we ate mainly just some of the stalks as green onions, so that our patch of Walking Onions could increase.  They were strong with a bit of a spicy kick, which we enjoy!  The best part about them, though?  Nothing else eats them, so I could actually plant them outside of my fenced veggie garden.  I love trying new things in the garden every year and discovering new favorites to grow.

Clockwise from top left:  Purple Podded Pole Beans, potatoes, Half Long Guernsey Parsnips, Xtra-tender Sweet Corn,  Japanese Minowase Daikon Radish
Out of the new varieties we tried this year, my hands-down favorite was the Purple Podded Pole Beans.  They were prolific, indestructible, and delicious!  One of my daughters also discovered how much she liked parsnips (always a win!).  A carb-lover like most kids, she had so much fun digging and eating the potatoes out of my garden that she wants to grow them in her own garden this year.

potato plants
The kids also enjoyed the Sweet Corn, even though they ended up being more like corn 'nuggets', if you couldn't tell from the picture.  Our poor corn plants lived quite the hard life, having been completely knocked down by a strong storm and replanted/propped back up into place.  We also grew the usual suspects of garlic, peppers, and tomatoes, and I was able to can over a dozen jars of salsa in the attempt to keep us in salsa until the next harvest.


This year I tried growing Brandywine tomatoes again -  but in the greenhouse and away from the chipmunks this time.  They were as impressively delicious as everyone said, though I think I still prefer the Black Krims.  The Brandywines also didn't really produce quite as many tomatoes, either, though I did get one impressive 1.5 pounder!  Our tomato season is just so short up here, and by the time tomato plants really get going, it starts getting cold.

my 1.5 pound Brandywine tomato
My favorite tomato varieties this year?  Black Krim, Chocolate Cherry, Brandywine, and Magic Mountain.  I had one dud, the 'Green Vernissage' tomato, which I unfortunately grew from a complimentary free seed packet.  Maybe others like it, but I thought it tasted so awful that I cut the plants down.  My greenhouse space is at a premium, and that one was not worthy!

step inside to find my tomato and pepper plants
Of course, every year there is some sort of pest to deal with.  This past year I found myself with a deluge of slugs and grubs, which cut down pretty much all of my lettuce and spinach that were in those beds.  I consoled myself with how pretty my favorite turnips looked, grown under a row cover and away from the usual flea beetles.

'Hakurei' turnips
So what new ventures shall this year's garden bring?  Perpetual spinach? Wonderberries1500 Year Old Cave Beans?  There's always something new to grow and discover.


So let the season begin!

Anyone growing anything new and exciting this year?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Snowdrop

The winter weather fluctuates,
and the snow recedes
to unveil what's underneath.

Withered leaves,
frost-heaved plants....


and the first breath of spring.

A brief moment
of joyful promise
sure to lie in quiet sleep
under the blanket of tomorrow's snow.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Winter is Here...

In New England we have nine months of winter and three months of darned poor sledding.
~old New England proverb

I think this bird is wishing it had migrated south for the winter.
Thankfully it's not usually as bad as that old saying would make it seem, but winter in New England is now in full swing.  The holidays were lovely, if cold.  Though my family coming from down south was delayed by our ice storm, they made it up before Christmas to spend the week with us.

crabapple tree encased in ice
Everything was covered in an impressive layer of ice.  The curly ting in my winter containers had a little extra pizazz.


We were lucky enough to get snow on Christmas.  It was so lovely to have a white Christmas, especially for my family up from the south.  The temperatures then dropped to below zero (-20° Celsius) for a true New England winter experience.  Despite the cold, we all had a great time spending time with family that we don't see often enough.


The bitter weather continued into the New Year with a blizzard the first week of January that dropped about a foot and a half of snow.


The second week of January it rained and then got up to about 60°F (15°C).  The poor plants were probably totally confused, but the birds were ecstatic to get some respite.  I've never heard them sing so loudly.

Bluebird basking in the sun
This week it is back to snowing again.  While it might not last nine months, New England winters can get rather long, so it's critical to have hobbies.  Bird watching is one that really helps me through the winter.  When all the plants are brown and frozen, it is so enjoyable just to see signs of life outside.

Northern flicker
Every year I've had Bluebirds overwinter here, and I was glad to see several Bluebirds stay this year as well.  It was once quite rare to see Bluebirds this far north in winter, but it is now becoming more common.  They are one of my favorites, with their brilliant blue plumage.


The story of the Bluebirds is also one of my favorites.  Their population saw a steep decline between 1920 and 1970 due to widespread pesticide use, an increase of house cats, loss of habitat, and invasive birds that aggressively took over suitable nesting sites.  By the 1970's, Bluebirds were on the brink of extinction.  Thankfully a grassroots movement took hold to save them.  Organizations such as the North American Bluebird Society formed, which set up and monitored trails of bluebird nesting boxes.  Concerned bird-lovers put up nesting boxes all over the country.  The movement was a smashing success, and the population of Bluebirds rebounded.


Isn't that such a hopeful story?  Other conservation efforts have really caught on recently, such as helping the bees and the Monarch butterfly, and I do hope that these efforts will be just as successful.  (And hopefully these efforts will also have a positive effect on the environment for the many creatures out there that aren't quite as flashy or as noticeable.)


Judging by the tracks and plant damage I think our bunny and deer populations are doing pretty well, though... 

bunny tracks on the front walkway
...possibly too well.

Happy winter, and stay warm!


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