Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Leap Day

Earlier today I planted more carrots and three kinds of choi; mei qing, joi and win-win.  Don’t those names just make you think you’ll have good fortune if you eat them?  I also planted spinach, a new variety called Bordeaux, it’s supposed to have purple- red stems and be pretty in salads.  And Tyee, an old standby.

This evening I took the short walk I’ve been taking when the weather is good, down past the pond and onto the trail that leads down to Morgan Creek.  The trout lilies have emerged and their grey-green mottled leaves line the path.  Rounding a bend the trail follows along the water, past a laurel bluff on the far side hanging over a tumbling outcrop of white quartz that continues on our side of the creek in a lumpy mound of white boulders covered with patches of moss.  Walking down stream I come to the confluence of the pond creek. This is the sight where we do our stream watch 4 times a year.  

If there’s water.  The level has been pretty good this winter, though it still seems a bit low to me and I fear without a wet spring, it will dry up quick once the trees leaf out.  

Lot corner marker at the confluence of Pond creek and Morgan

There are signs of changes coming to this stretch of trail.  Neighbors-to-be that own the land on this corner of the creek are preparing to build.  I don’t relish it.  We’ve been spoiled having that hilltop all to ourselves, covered with old trees, dropping down a steep hillside to the creek.  This plot also has the pond creek cutting through the center of the ten acres.  This is one sweet spot.  I would build a house there if I owned the land.   But I’m not looking forward to the process; hammers, radios, saws and drills for many months.  From this point I walk back up what I refer to as fern alley to the dam where I sit on this little bench to see what I might see.  
The other day there were a pair of mallards and a pair of geese.   Today only a lone goose flew up off the water as I approached, circled over the farm and honked off into the distance.  His wings were so broad I could clearly hear them flapping.  I wonder how much energy it must take to lift their big bodies into the air?  The spring peepers and upland chorus frogs were singing up a storm.  Looking across the pond, through the woods over towards the dairy, there is a stripe of hilltop pasture that glows emerald, lit brilliant by the late day sunshine shooting across it.
 As I crossed the bridge over the stream to head back home, two Carolina wrens flew out from under the bridge, it seemed like I had nearly stepped on one of them because it appeared to fly literally out from between my feet!   They fly out from the shed whenever I go in there to put things away around dusk.  Soon we’ll be pulling there nests from every nook and cranny.  They’re incorrigible.

It’s time to go into the kitchen and scrounge up some supper.  I’m thinking chickpeas I cooked yesterday, a bag of kale from the garden, the last Greek lamb sausage and maybe some brown rice.  But you never know what might turn up once I start rooting around in the fridge.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Still February

 I love the red of the bare branches of this coral barked maple when its wet

After that last post, winter reared its head ever so briefly.  We had a dusting of snow a week or so ago, maybe an inch but it was melted by mid day.  Today is cold and rainy, I'm glad I don't have to be out in it.  I had planned to plant spinach and beets but they'll have to wait for another day when the sun comes back out and dries the ground up a bit.  I did manage to plant 180 onions last week, 40 red, 40 white and 100 yellow.  We ate the last onion from last years crop this week.  I would plant more but without a cold cellar I just don't think they would keep much past this time without sprouting and starting to rot.  It's a great investment when there is a good crop; $20 for the plants, about 4 hours of back bending to plant them, some weeding and watering yielded 80 pounds last year.  Last week when I bought the first onions in 8 months they were $4 for 3 pounds- that's $240 that we grew ourselves last year, a pretty good return I'd say.  David got the peas and first planting of lettuce, radish and carrots in last week too and a few pounds of potatoes wait in their paper sacks to go into the ground soon.
The onions in their neat rows.  Bright green in the center right are shallots planted in January

I've been working my tail off trying to get the community gardens up and running for the season.  Calling gardeners to organize meetings and work days, enrolling new families to fill vacant plots, sorting through last years seeds to figure out what's still viable and what I need to order for the coming season.  I've been organizing students from UNC to help out in the face of no staff this year because of budget cuts.  I'm the solo employee at this point, queen bee for all three gardens and the 45 families that will fill them in the next few months.  My office is a disaster; boxes of seeds, gardening handouts and planting charts, enrollment forms and garden agreements spread across the floor. I've been writing grants too, all in my 20 hour a week allotted time!  Sure feels like I'm working more than that, but I don't count the hours I spend thinking about it all, or worrying and losing sleep at night either...

Yesterday I held the first in a series of monthly veggie gardening basics classes that I'll be offering this year.  The day was a big success, 15 people came to my class in English and another 14 showed up to hear the same spiel in Spanish.  That was a challenge for me but I think I held my own, managing to make myself understood and only grappling for the right word a few times.  Everyone seemed interested and left excited to go home or into their community garden plot and plant some seeds.  And we raised $170 for the community gardens in donations from the participants.  Every little bit helps now that the grant funds have almost run out.

I'm ready for spring to come on now, it's been a challenging month feeling like spring but knowing by the calendar that its not yet time, having to hold back.  This week I'll set up the grow light in the corner of the bedroom and sow my flats with tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds to grow up and set out in mid-April.  Spring really is just around the corner.
A fancy hellebore struts her stuff

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Winter That Never Was

Its been spookily warm this year and has never really gotten very cold.  We've seen lots of 50's and 60's and the thermometer hit 70 this week. The daffodils are starting to bloom what feels like about 2 weeks early, normally they come around valentines day.  The prunus mume still has flowers after about 6 weeks of flowering, I saw cherry trees beginning to turn pink in town this afternoon. 
It is really tempting to think "that's it, spring is here" even though its only Feb 3rd.  Apparently both Punxsutawney Phil  up in Pennsylvania and Sir Walter Wally here in NC saw their shadows yesterday.  But I've never put much stock in their predictions.

Call me a geek, but I think it's interesting to study the weather records from time to time.  The record lows and highs for our area from Jan 20 through today run from the single digits all the way up into the 80's and across decades from the fifties until recently.  There was a little heat bump in 2002 with a couple of days running in the 80's and also back in 1989, but otherwise there is no real pattern.  There was also a record 17.9 inch snowfall in 2000.  So it's safe to say that the weather can be fickle in this part of the world this time of year.  Though I'm not saying I don't believe in climate change, I absolutely do.

In fact this past week the USDA changed the plant hardiness zone map for the US for the first time in 22 years.  Based on weather patterns over the last 30 years, the whole country pretty much got bumped up a notch, adding 5 degrees to the average low.  The Piedmont of NC is now zone 7b instead of 7a.
This clump of white hellebores has been going to town for about a month.  I'm used to them blooming during the cold times, but they still started a bit early I think, they are in a sunny protected spot.  It has certainly helped the vegetables to grow nicely despite the short days.
I'm tempted to toss out a few pea and lettuce seeds and see what happens.  Does the change in the hardiness zone result in a change in the last and first predicted frost dates?  I'll have to go look that up next...