Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Last Word for 2014

So the Last Word is actually the name of a cocktail that our friends Sarah and Ben turned us onto last summer and we are thinking of mixing up a batch for the festivities tonight.  The recipe is as follows:
3/4 oz Gin
3/4 oz Green chartruese
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz maraschino liqueur
Shake with ice and strain
garnish with a twist and/or a cherry

But truth be told, I felt compelled to put a few words on this page at years end.  I've been horribly negligent on this blog with the last post in July!  It really was a very busy fall, it really was.

I enjoyed a first half of 2014 year in review, reading through my previous posts.  It's funny as I see the same things over and over.  In fact I spent several long days at the start of my winter break reorganizing my office and cleaning up, much as I did last year at this time.

The 240 onions that I planted back in March are starting to sprout in the closet and so it's time to make big vats of french onion soup again.  I think I went overboard for sure, next year I'll only plant 180.

The last handful of those red pontiac potatoes we dug back in June are sending out pubescent white and pink shoots, one more batch of mashers and they'll be gone, then it will be on to the bumper crop of sweet potatoes.

We are still eating those greens I froze in June and also enjoying fresh greens and salads from the garden.  Thriving thanks to floating row cover that keeps the frost away on cold nights.  I continue to harvest a big bowl of lettuce and other mixed greens each week, we have baby bok choy, cabbages, broccoli, kale, spinach and carrots all still perking along out there, ready for picking when we are ready for eating, such a luxury.

Tomato sauce, ratatouille, chopped multi-colored peppers, black-eyed peas and blueberries still fill the freezer to get us through the next few months of cold weather cooking.  Lots of firewood to burn to keep us warm.  We are rich indeed.

Since my last post back in July I've been to:
 American Community Gardening Association meeting in Chicago in August
  • A week at Topsail in September
  • Organized 5 GROW workshops for NC Community Garden Partners and traveled to Laurinburg, Hickory, New Bern and Asheville in October
  • In November I was back to the coast for a GROW workshop in Wilmington and a long birthday weekend at Wrightsville with some of my gal pals.
  • Finally in December I went up to the Franklinton Center at Bricks in the tiny town of Whitakers, NC for the fifth and final GROW workshop.
So there really was a lot of travel and running around and getting ready for the travel and running around in between.  In addition, I continued to manage the Carrboro Family Community Garden and work with multiple new and existing clients for my new business, Playful Nature Consulting.

I hope you'll forgive my absence in this space, I was overwhelmed with too many responsibilities and something had to go.  It's my hope to get back in the swing of regular writing and attempt to reign in the workload a smidgen in 2015.

I leave Friday for a few days of reflection and writing at the Weymouth Center, a wonderful way to start the new year.  Here's wishing a fabulous, healthy and prosperous 2015 to any of the faithful readers I may have left at this site. Thanks for continuing to check in from time to time to read the latest from MKH at MCC.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tomato Surprise

Tomato Surprise sounds like a recipe you might find in a Betty Crocker cookbook from the fifties.  Probably a cassrole including ingredients like canned tomato soup, saltine crackers and cheese.  But no, read on to learn about our tomato surprise.
Here is the scene about every other day.  The cukes and squash are getting pretty thick.  Dating each bag is critical to making sure we are on a "first in, first out" program.  The blueberries have been plentiful enough to start freezing some.  We are up to 2 quarts in the freezer, as many as we can eat fresh and lots more on the bushes. 

Don't get me wrong, this is a good problem to have, but the need to process is a bit oppressive at times.
This is the other fairly constant scene in our kitchen right now.  Despite eating as many as we can, processing for sauce, freezing whole, making BLT's, gazpacho, salsa and they just keep coming.  I actually made a sauce last night with Sungold cherries because they were on the verge of going over and that would be a crime.  The sauce was fantastically sweet, I put it through the food mill to remove the skins, and then cooked it with some Japanese eggplants and a load of garlic and basil. Yeah.

The big surprise in the mater patch this season were the Aunt Ruby's German Greens.  Now I knew I had started some seeds but somewhere in the translation of seed flats to stepped up pots, I thought none of them had sprouted.  I found the seed in a last seasons reduced bin and so I figured maybe they just had not been good seeds.  Luckily, they did sprout and were mislabeled.  I planted a couple in the group of plums thinking they were sauce tomatoes.

As they started to mature it became apparent they were no kind of plum tomato but some sort of heirloom.  I thought they were Georgia Streaks, yellow with a red sunburst on the bottom, but the mystery tomato was ripening later.  Not until a couple of them started to rot on the vine did it occur to me they were the German Greens. 
What a fantastic tomato!  They have a silky texture similar to a Cherokee Purple and that gorgeous sunburst of pink at the bottom. Even with very green shoulders, they are perfectly ripe, with a nice balance of acid and sweet.  Fortunately we made the realization before they all went bad.
Here a dynamite salad made with the Aunt Ruby's Green tomato, watermelon, purple onion, feta and topped with peanuts.  I did a dressing with peanut oil, rice wine vinegar and fresh basil.  It was super tasty.

Fortunately I think I have enough plums for one more big batch of sauce and the crop seems to be winding down.  Then we will go through withdrawal because we will no longer be eating 2 or 3 amazing tomatoes each day.  Oh well, can't have it all.  If they were available all year like this we wouldn't appreciate them as we do when they only are at their peak for a couple of months.  But we will have them frozen and canned to enjoy over the winter.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Monster Cukes and Other Garden Trivia

These two state fair quality beauties measuring 17 and 19 inches respectively, slipped past our attentive pickers eyes.  They were each snuggled close to or behind the green metal fence posts upon which the cucumber trellis is supported.  They were hiding under the leaves of cukes and beans.  Growing longer by the day.  I'm sure the inch of rain we finally got helped push them along to their mammoth lengths.  Both are Japanese varieties; small seeded, thin skinned, sweet, wet, crunchy, spectacular, even at this size.  The top one is a Suyo Long; prickly and ridged, fancy when cut cross-wise to reveal scalloped edges.  The bottom is a Tasty Jade, smooth and round.  Both are long time standards in our garden. 
I think I know how I'll be spending my day tomorrow 

It's sauce making time.   Despite the early blight, the tomatoes have done quite well and put on a very nice set of fruit.  This is definitely the peak week, we'll be eating as many as we possibly can. 

I was shocked to realize we haven't had a BLT yet, so I went to the store today to get all the ingredients for the ultimate sandwich.   Good rustic white bread, a head of lettuce and some decent bacon.  Tomorrows lunch.  Discussing tonight's dinner menu and this quest for BLT fixin's with  David this morning, I apologized for being geezerly in my anticipation of meals to come, but there you have it.  Got to have something to look forward to right?

Especially since we have cancelled our anticipated camping vacation for next week due to the fact that it looks like rain most every day in the mountains starting Sunday, the day we were to leave and lasting through the week :-(.   SO we are going to stay home and eat.  And work.  But considering all I've got to get done this month, its probably a wise decision.  Hopefully we'll get a chance to sneak off for a little fun at some point soon.

And with all those maters coming in, well, we probably ought to stick around to deal with them too.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Quintessential Summer Supper

 Cherokee Purple, Sungold and Pink Bumblebee tomatoes with some summer friends

I can't get through July without posting about this most summery of plates.  We've been eating some combo of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and snap beans once and sometimes twice a day for the past couple of weeks.  I do not tire of this grouping as I know it will never taste quite the same at any other time of year as it does when it comes fresh from the garden.

Some S&P, O&V and a smattering of feta or cottage cheese with some purple onion for bite and fresh basil for pizazz, its just hard to go wrong.

On the left up there is a zucchini stuffed with a custard made of fresh corn, egg, milk and cheese.  It's topped with fresh tomato sauce made of nothing but onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil with peeled chopped plum tomatoes.  It is so sweet and simple.

I added a pile of lentils last night for some more protein.  French lentils are great eaten cold, worth a try if you haven't and they cook up quickly too.

Best news of all.  It's raining.  Rained last night too.  A half an inch and I'm feeling maybe we'll have another half inch or more tonight.  Everyone, even non-gardeners, are breathing a sigh of relief.

 Corn Stuffed Zucchini (Calabacitas rellenas con elote)

           Adapted from Diana Kennedy's The Cuisines of Mexico 

3 large zucchini- wash, trim the ends and cut in half lengthwise.  Scoop out the flesh and save for another dish, leaving a 1/4-1/2 inch thick "boat" to hold the custard.
Put in a blender:
   Scraped kernels from 3 ears of corn
   1 egg
   1-2 T milk (enough to free the blades of the blender)
   1/4 t salt and some fresh pepper
Add 1/2 cup of grated cheese, and give another zip in blender
(I like muenster but you could use jack or cheddar)

Put zucchini boats in a baking dish, pour the custard into the boats, top with more grated cheese.
Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes-one hour.
Serve with fresh tomato sauce and some chopped fresh parsley or basil.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Praying for Rain

And perhaps the prayers will be answered.  It is so parched and dry the weeds that make up our lawn are starting to die. Many plants around the yard are drooping, despite spending hours each day standing with the hose to give a hope of continued life to the many shrubs and trees we've planted over the past few years. 

The bonus to standing with the hose is a chance to take in a slow view of things. Watch birds flit about the yard.  Or clouds move across the sky casting shadows on the parched landscape. A moment to pluck and crush Japanese beetles munching away on the apple trees. Or pick blueberries while the hose rests at their feet, giving the roots a deep soak to yield plump berries. 

Happiness in Blue

I resorted to the rain bird today.  We rarely use a sprinkler, as they seem wasteful, but it's come to that, too many vast dry areas and too little time to spare.

It did rain today, but only briefly.  I went out and just stood, listening to that sound of water hitting leaves, ground, roof.  I thought "Come on, come on, keep going, PLEASE."  It has been nearly a month since we had any appreciable rain, so it's getting critical.  More is forecast for tomorrow.  Fingers crossed that we are under the 60% of sky that's predicted to give a decent shower. We'll need at least an inch to even begin to soak down into the baked and cracked soil.

Good news is that diligent watering does yield vegetables.  And the lack of rain has probably saved our tomatoes from the blight that was overtaking them earlier in the season after the one heavy rain we had back in May.
Happiness in Red and Yellow
We are also fortunate to have a well.  Here's hoping it keeps on pumping cool clear water from deep in the ground for many years to come. 
Nothing really says July quite like day lilies.  This one is a fave with its green throat in contrast against those velvety purple petals.
This two-toner is another beauty
I've noticed the plants with tuberous roots; day lilies, ginger lilies, peonies, are much better able to endure the lack of water.  But even they are beginning to show signs of distress.  

Come on.  Rain.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Carrot Contemplation

A couple of days ago I bragged that the carrots were ready for digging.  Not exactly.
Eeeeww! Root maggots
In fact, the carrots were past ready for digging, having been invaded heavily by the heinous carrot root maggot.  I've had this trouble before in the summer.  I think this is one of the reasons people say not to leave root crops in the ground once the hot weather sets in.  Also, I blame my using some wood chips from the dairy barn mixed with leaves to mulch the bed.  I read yesterday that the flies that lay the eggs that hatch into root maggots like to lay their eggs in manure.  Oh well.
Good enough to go into the fridge for later
I did manage to salvage around 5 pounds.  There were some (above) that had little or no damage.  The rest I was able to clean up and cut away the nasty parts leaving a couple of edible pounds.
 Ready for the soup pot
 I  cooked onions, fennel and garlic in a generous amount of butter, added homemade chicken stock and the cleaned up carrot remains and simmered it till the roots were soft.  

Pureed with cream and garnished with sugar snap peas, dill, chives and yogurt, this was a tasty soup that we'll be able to enjoy for the next few days as it made about a gallon. 

This is one of those gardening experiences that give me pause.  

Is it really worth all the effort to grow what amounted to less than 5 pounds of carrots?  I can buy a 5 pound bag of organic carrots at the coop for about $6.  I have had this thought before when I harvested carrots that were less than stellar.  They are challenging to get started, often germinate poorly and carrots planted in spring for summer harvest are not that sweet.  The ones I grow in fall do better, can stay in the ground until I'm ready to eat them and are quite sweet especially once the cold weather sets in.  So I consider them to be more worthwhile.  But I wonder if I should really bother planting spring carrots in future.  

I think this may be one of the only crops I've ever really questioned the value of growing.  If you have any thoughts or experience with carrot growing, weigh in on this discussion via my comments section, go ahead, it's not that hard to leave a comment!

Here is a helpful article from Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association on Carrot Rust Fly.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Veggies Piling Up!

Red Pontiac Spuds Dug Today
This morning we pulled over 35 pounds of potatoes from the ground.  These will join the 20 pounds of Yukon Golds harvested earlier.  It's interesting that from the same number of seed potatoes and the same length of row, the red potatoes always deliver almost double the number of spuds.

We have been enjoying these babies fried up with onions, simmered in their skins with butter and chives and mashed of course.  Nothing tastier than a newly dug tater to put a smile on your face.

Onions strung through fence wire to dry under cover of the shed
Each year our techniques for growing, harvesting and drying the onions has improved I think, with this system being the best one yet.  They are now starting to fall to the ground which is my signal they are dry enough to bring inside.

In other garden news; the squash, cukes and beans are really starting to pile up and I'm thinking about what to do with them all in addition to eating veggies at every meal.  The peas got ripped down off the trellis this morning, vines brown and starting to turn white with powdery mildew, time to go.

Eating beets every day now too, and contemplating canning a few jars of pickled beets for the winter.  Carrots are ready to dig and cabbage has taken the place of lettuce in the salad department.  Chard is now the green for cooking in lieu of spinach and kale.

Still waiting eagerly for the tomatoes to start getting ripe, a few Sungold cherries tide us over until the reds begin to ripen up, I see tinges of pink here and there and know it will be soon.  

I'm contemplating which beans to plant where, now that some of the spring crops are out and freeing up space.  If you are a regular reader you know I am a bean-aholic.  Fortex and Garden of Eden pole beans are on the list along with borlotto shell beans and purple hull peas.   New to try this season are black and white calico shell beans, also called yin yang beans.  

As always there is no end to the garden chores at this time of the year, but we plug along trying to get something done each morning before it gets too hot.
The day lilies are going crazy now and offer a place to pause and take in the beauty during any trip across the yard.

I'm off to organize a dish for the community garden potluck tonight where we will be digging spuds and cooking them up as part of our event.  As much as we need rain, I hope it doesn't come between 5-8 tonight in Carrboro.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

At Morgan Creek Today

The water level is starting to drop but there was still plenty flowing by to make for an OK stream watch snapshot.  I was joined for a bit by my friend Eric and his dog Willow.  Once she got restless they took off and left me in quiet solitude to finish the task.

I did not see the variety or number of critters I sometimes find, but there were still things to look at.  Loads of crawdads big and small.  Dragonfly larvae; slow moving, shield shaped, they remind me of little tanks.   A salamander, still breathing through gills, less than an inch long, almost translucent.  Small fish, big tadpole, lots and lots of wiggly caddisflies.

Many damselflies were in the air but I did not find their slender fairly-like larvae in the water.  With jet black wings and neon blue bodies I love to watch them dancing and flitting together above the stream.

Once I had finished my "work", I waded up stream in search of a spot deep enough to lie down in.  I heard something moving on the bank ahead of me and looked up in time to see a coyote staring back at me.  We met eyes for a moment and then he turned tail and trotted off in the other direction.  I found a hole thigh deep and lay down to float for a few minutes, get that deep cool way down into my flesh.
Post dip selfie

When the horseflies found me and started to bite, I headed home to chill in the AC.
I wish you all a very happy solstice.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Solstice Eve

Tonight after supper (corn and zucchini tacos), we walked up to the mailboxes to stretch our legs and catch the last light of day.  The fireflies were rising, first around the house and later as it got darker, up out of the pastures.  And as we came back down our drive towards the house, the lightening bugs in the woods started to flash in synchrony.  Enchanting.

It has been brutally hot, everyday this week in the 90's.  Each day as the inevitable thunderstorms build, we eagerly watch the weather radar only to see the storms inexplicably break up and pass around us without dropping any rain.  Frustrating.  The only time its decent to work outside is before 9 AM or after 7 PM.

Despite the dry heat the gardens are looking good and productive.  We have 180 onions curing in the shed, 60 heads of garlic dried, cleaned and ready to store, 20 pounds of potatoes curing under the bed and another 20 pounds yet to be dug from the garden.

This week we started harvesting the first of the beans, squash and cukes and the tomatoes are fattening up.  Beets are getting rounder, carrots longer and broader by the day.
The peas are about finished as are all the spring greens, between the caterpillars and the heat, forcing them to bolt to flower.  I harvested all the kale and spinach wholesale a couple of weeks ago and cooked a bushel down to a couple of pounds for the freezer.  
Beet thinnings, kale and spinach headed for the freezer

I started a new half-time job this week.  Working for the NC Community Garden Partners to organize 5 one-day workshops across the state for community garden leaders over the next 6 months.  Those will be followed by a mini-grant process to award small grants to gardens for things like bee hives and season extension.  The project is partly funded by the Burt's Bees Greater Good Foundation so there will be a big focus on pollinators and organic pest management.  I will be busy pulling this all together and doing all my other stuff but I am excited for the opportunity and think it will be a worthwhile and fun project.

Still working at Spanish for Fun.  We made these "grow bags" with coffee bags and here I am teaching the kids how to snap a snapdragon.  A lost art I am trying to keep alive.  These kids are a total joy and keep me going even on the hottest of days.

Looking forward to a dip in the creek tomorrow as we head down to conduct our quarterly stream watch in search of macroinvertebrates and other critters.  It will be a good day to get wet.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Still Perking Along in the Piedmont

Hello friends, sorry for another long absence.  It's been a busy time.  Seems like I am gardening non-stop when at home.  Otherwise I am running around trying to drum up business for Playful Nature at the same time I am trying to do the jobs I already have.   Like managing the community garden and working with my young friends at Spanish for Fun Academy childcare center.  With the kiddo's in the past couple of weeks we have pressed flowers for drying, harvested strawberries and peas, garlic and potatoes.  We've planted tomatoes and beans too.  And been studying butterflies and other pollinators.  All in all, having a big time.

The back of the Boyd house at Weymouth
I did manage to slip away for a couple of days to one of my favorite spots, the Weymouth Center for the Arts in Southern Pines.  An enchanted place to retreat and where I met up with my old group of writing friends for a few days of deep writing and renewal.  I spent a fair amount of my time there trying to get a new blog up for the business.  It will be interesting to see if I can maintain two blogs when I don't seem able to maintain one!  Please wish me luck!
Nothing says late spring like snap peas and beets.  The peas are fleeting, they really only bear for about 2-3 weeks but they are so sweet and crispy that they are worth getting in the ground way back in February and erecting a high trellis so we can enjoy their crunchy green goodness.  I was literally using a step ladder to pick them this week.  I am wondering if I should consider a shorter variety?

FYI- I am going to change my settings back to require the "prove you are not a robot" screens to post a comment. Unfortunately, as soon as I removed that little firewall, I started getting strange comments posted from China, India and elsewhere.  Sorry for any inconvenience, please DO leave a sincere comment.

Thanks for reading and happy days folks.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Busy as Bees

Peony Do Tell

Howdy sports fans!  I will tell that it has been spring madness around here for a few weeks now.  Non-stop gardening, interspersed with bird-watching and splashed with actual paid work.  The annual battle of trying to beat back the weeds in the flower beds and get fertilizer and mulch down around things to help them along and keep the weeds from regrowing is an ongoing effort.  Progress has been made with a truckload of compost spread and three truckloads of mulch.  But we've yet to finish the task.  I'm guessing I'm about two-thirds of the way through at this point.  About the time I get done with all the flower beds, it will likely be time to start weeding the ones I did first, again.  Such is the life of a couple of over the top gardeners.

In the veggie patch things are looking stellar.  I just peeked a couple of posts back and the potatoes pictured there are now knee high and the peas are almost to the top of the trellis and flowering.  Greens are lush.  We have been eating obligatory monster piles of salad and skillets full of cooked greens on a daily basis.  Glorious mixes of red and green leaf lettuces, red-stemmed Bordeaux spinach, arugula and cress for the salads.  Kale, beet greens, spinach, chard, mustard and turnip greens in the braising mix.  Love the first fresh greens of spring!

Summer garden is almost in.  I've planted 22 tomato plants, 13 peppers, beans, squash and cucumbers.  Basil and nasturtiums.  I still want to put out some butternut squash, sweet potatoes, more beans, tomatillos and a few more peppers. Also sunflowers and zinnias need sowing.  But I'm getting close.  We've been picking and eating sweet red strawberries this week and asparagus too.
Peony Raspberry Sundae
I've waxed poetic many times before about peonies.  They are just starting to open and the yard is hypnotic with their fragrance and that of the lilac in full bloom.  

Birding during the past two prime weeks for northern migration has been rewarding.  My extreme birding brother Chris has been out each morning and calling me once or twice a day with the bird report.  When I've been lucky enough to get out there with him we have seen some excellent birds.  Most exciting for me are always the warblers and this season was no exception.  I have seen prairie, pine, black-throated blue, yellow-throated, common-yellow throat, chestnut-sided, Canada, parula, black and white, hooded, Kentucky and blue-winged warblers.  Also in the warbler family; Northern and Louisiana water thrushes, ovenbirds, American redstarts and chat.  Veery and Swainson's thrushes have also been in the woods on their way north and the fluting and melodious wood thrush has been calling daily for several weeks.  Back for the season to breed are the scarlet and summer tanagers, indigo bunting, great crested flycatcher, peewee, and red-headed woodpecker.  It's a great time to be a birder.

I've also been working on promoting the new business and finally finished my website and launched it last week.  So hop over and check it out at  and if you are on Facebook, please like my page: playful nature consulting.  Thanks!  now I'm off to bed to rest off so I can do some more gardening tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April Delights

I wish I had a video camera so I could take you on a virtual tour of our yard.  Everyday seems more spectacular.  Trees are leafing out, many things are budding.  Crab apple, redbud, dogwood, deciduous magnolias, and azaleas all blooming at once! 

We've just come inside from covering up plants.  The weather today is to be first crazy stormy and then the temps to plunge from 70 this afternoon to 29 degrees tonight.  Many things may be too tender to endure.  But we only have so much remay fabric.  We covered the strawberries, in full bloom, the potatoes newly sprouted and quite tender.  And the spring veggies and salad garden, probably could take it but very tender.

Yesterday in the sunshine:
 Taters on the right, beets, spinach and garlic in the middle, salad to the left
 Baby salad greens and peas on the trellis
It has been a strange spring weather wise and I guess this is the new normal in our days of climate change.  Lots of wild extremes and tough storms.  But plants just go on and do their thing.  We hope the blueberries will not be harmed, nor all the brand new leaves on trees, but there is nothing to be done but wait and see.
We did cover this little maple (to the left, yes, that is a dwarf tree), its been nipped in years past.  Always the Japanese maples seem to be among the first trees to leaf out.  Here you can see Davids big project from last weekend.  He moved this path that previously went to the left of the dogwood in the center of the frame past that little maple.  He so carefully moved everything around that you can hardly tell!
One last thing to share, this flowering cherry Hally Jolivette.  This has been its best season ever.  Right outside my office window the tree has gotten fuller with the dainty pink and white flowers everyday for two weeks and now is starting to wind down.  I imagine the cold nights will be the end of the flowers for this season.  But what a joy it's been.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Creativity Collective

My new business cards

I've been meeting every two or three weeks with a few of my most creative friends.  Artists, musicians, writersWe're calling ourselves the Creativity Collective.  

It has been a supportive and motivational process.  

Each time we meet we discuss issues we are facing in trying to move our work forward, in getting marketing done, building business and clientele, organizing various projects we each are working on.  We help each other set goals and provide a venue for accountability to meeting those goals.  

One of mine is marketing to launch my new business Playful Nature.  One of the gals helped me with graphic layout for my card and then another came up with the snappy idea of stitching together seed packets into a patchwork to back the cards, making each one unique.  Yes, you read "stitching" Peg is a fabric artist so thinks of sewing everything.  Click on the photo above to get a closer look. They are very cool and memorable, not something I want to produce thousands of, but they should make an impression on folks when I hand them out.

The website is coming along but not quite ready to launch, though I've set a goal for this week.  I'll keep you posted, taxes still need to get finished...  

I do have a really good gig tomorrow presenting on gardening with kids to a group of childcare center directors and staff through the Natural Learning Initiative at NCSU.  This is the sort of thing I hope to get lots more of. 

Spring is here and along with it come lots of new opportunities and new beginnings.
Camellia Kujacku Tsubaki

Every day there is something new in bloom.  I LOVE April.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spring Ephemerals

Bloodroot and Trout Lily
Warm rain and everything is starting to burst forth.  I braved the damp mist and took a walk today, eager to get out of the house, stir crazy from organizing my tax documents. The may apples were unfurling their umbrellas. Dainty spring beauties, trout lilies and hepatica dotted the edges of the path along the creek.  The mosses and lichen seemed electric in the gray wetness of the day.  Shining out chartreuse and grey green, I kept expecting to spy a leprechaun peeking out from behind a tree trunk.

There are masses of spotted salamander eggs in the vernal pools.  They must have crawled out of their underground hiding places in the first warm rains a month or so ago.  I've been watching them develop, picking up blobs of the jelly-like clusters to take a closer peek.  I think I might put some in a container to take and show to the kids in my programs, maybe keep a few to watch them hatch, then return them to their birth pools to carry on.

Here's what they look like when they are all grown up. So ready for spring and all the unfolding.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Inside and Out

 Mr. and Mrs. Wood Duck
I actually managed to sneak up on this lovely couple today, they are normally quite skittish.

Foam mat today
I've been thinking about Carol's comment on the creek foam so did a bit of research.  I knew it was naturally occurring but wanted to know more.  Foam is caused by the presence of dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Basically DOC comes from plants and other stuff breaking down and decomposing in the water or washed into the stream from the land.  The DOC then changes the surface tension of the water allowing air to get incorporated into the surface.  That air at the surface makes foam which piles up against stream banks and logs.  A similar thing is happening at the ocean edge when you see foam in the surf.

Things that change surface tension are called surfactants.  Soaps and other pollutants can cause this to happen, but in that case the foam is everywhere and often has a scent like the soap that caused it. Fortunately our foam seems to be all natural.  And that is our science lesson for today!

Secret Agent Veggies-Under Cover
In other news.  The weather is capricious with below freezing temps forecast for the next few nights.  Many of the veggie seeds I planted began to sprout when it was warm over the weekend. I've now got everything tucked in and hoping it won't just die when the temp drops into the mid-20's tomorrow night. 

Inside, I had too many seed flats and not enough space or light so I developed the latest in seed starting technology.  Yes folks, those are seed flats and grow lights in the bathtub.  Sadly I don't take near enough bathes in our big beautiful tub so I got the notion that it would be a perfect spot to put more seed flats and suspend lights from boards across the top.  Tah Dah!  It's perfect.  It did require another $45 investment in the grow lights and bulbs, but should be worthwhile if I generate 200 herb, flower and veg plants in the deal.  The cost of a transplant these days can be as much as $3 or $4 each.  You can do the math.  And the original lights I bought for my older set-up have been in use for about 10 years now, same original bulbs.  I know these will help start many healthy transplants for years to come.  And if I really want a bath, I can move the plants out pretty easily.  They should be able to go outside in about 3 weeks.  In case you are wondering, we have a separate shower, so won't be going unwashed for an extended period.

Here's hoping the cold temps don't cause too much damage and that warm spring weather will come very soon.