Thursday, August 6, 2015

The catbird and me

We have many catbirds in our yard, and they are one of our favorites. They are not shy of humans and quite friendly. When I see one I can't resist talking to it - even if it's only to say "hey catbird, hey catbird!"

The other day I was dismantling an old compost bin to make space for a new compost tumbler. I'd unfastened the nuts and bolts that hold the round plastic bin  together, when a catbird showed up. S/he was only a couple of feet away from me when he started foraging in the remaining compost for insects. I loved the way the bird was completely unafraid, at one point turning around and looking straight at me as if to say, thanks for uncovering all this good stuff for me! After noticing that when the catbird found particularly long juicy insects like centipedes, it would fly off with the insect in its beak, I started to think it was a female, heading over to the nest.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

It looks like an ordinary tomato plant, but...'s actually the new Ketchup and Fries plant, AKA TomTato. It is a tomato grafted onto potato rootstock.

Mine is doing quite well. The potato flowers have bloomed. Several of the cherry tomatoes have ripened and been eaten. (Good, too!) This is before any of my other tomatoes have even begun to turn red. Someone suggested maybe the tomato plants are more vigorous precisely because they are grafted onto a strong rootstock. Seems plausible.

 I called Territorial Seed to find out if the potato part of the plant needed to have more soil piled on once the potatoes started growing. They said yes, that would work, but it would also work just to let everything keep growing as is. I added some soil, and take it on faith that the potatoes are doing well. (Potato leaves are are mostly on the right hand side of the photo near the base of the plant.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

On the verge

What a difference from last year, when the front yard was recovering from the disruption of a sewer pipe replacement. The plants I dug up and replanted last year seem very happy. Many are either starting to bloom or are on the verge.

 Last year I had planted three Liatris spicata after the yard was put back together. Shortly after, I came out to find that all three had been beheaded by some miscreant animal just as they were starting to develop a bloom. This year I'm delighted to see that the plants, (the spiky group on the left side of the photo with the skinny lance-like leaves), have not only returned with vigor but have multiplied. Less delicate and tender than last year, I'm hoping they will be less appealing to munchers.

One loss this year was of my Columbine, which had maintained itself nicely for years in the front bed. This year only a very few of these showed up. Yesterday I planted two in the light shade of a boulder close to the driveway. Hopefully they will thrive and spread themselves around in coming years.

In my last blog post I talked about my "fern nursery" and how I like to transplant the early knobs of ferns into various parts of the yard. Yesterday I tried transplanting a couple of much larger ferns that I feared were becoming too abundant in the vicinity of my Trillium luteum. They seem perfectly happy in a spot just opposite the front door, an area that has been relatively bare.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fiddleheads announce spring

Finally, something like spring seems to be approaching us in the chilly Mid-Atlantic. I went out to survey what's coming up in the yard and have seen bloodroot, rue anemone, and a few spring beauties blooming.

And there's also my fern nursery. This began as a big planter of ferns, left on the property by the previous owner. The first couple of years I just tried to keep them watered. They seemed to get pretty withered in summer, but came back well in the spring. Knowing little about ferns, I started wondering what kind they were.

I thought at first they were cinnamon ferns, but they never developed the distinctive cinnamon-colored stalk. Now I've identified them as ostrich ferns, Matteuccia struthiopteris. One telling characteristic: the fiddleheads have a groove running down one side of the stalk. A couple of years ago I picked a few fiddleheads and steamed and ate them. Not bad!

But mostly I like to take little clumps of rootstock - they are kind of nobby pieces from which the fiddleheads emerge - and transplant them into the yard. I always leave some rootstock to keep growing in the nursery for next year. The ferns do well in shade or part-shade, though they can take a fair amount of sun if you keep them well watered.

Here they are in a previous year, intermingled with Virginia bluebells.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A giant from the winter garden

Pulled from our new raised bed, this monster Daikon radish got sliced and oven roasted with carrots and red pepper. I was telling a friend how good the dish was, and John was apparently standing behind me shaking his head no while I talked. I'll try again, because he just thought I didn't roast things long enough. All the other Daikon radish look to be about carrot size, and I have rainbow carrots in the same bed that I will pull for the next round. It's nice the root vegetables can sit in the ground for a while, until the ground starts to freeze, anyway.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Yard Recovery

One of the things I love about plants is that they are so resilient. After the big dig for a new sewer line took out most of this native plant bed, the recovery has been amazing. 

These are plants that sat in pots for days, even weeks, waiting patiently to be put back in the ground. The garden bed they went back to was far inferior to the same bed pre-dig The trench dug for the sewer brought up a lot of pure clay, which was then packed firmly down as part of the project's completion. Thorough amendment of the soil was beyond my time and energy. All I managed was light tilling plus scattering some compost on the soil surface and into each planting hole. After the first weeks watering was infrequent.

Voila, a couple of months later and things are looking good, maybe better than before. The plants are certainly less crowded, which I think makes individual species stand out more. Come late fall when the garden is put to bed I will work on seriously improving the soil. For now, I'm thrilled to have my garden back.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Tomatoes BIG and small

Our new raised bed is creating some happy tomatoes. Both of these are heirlooms. The big ones are Brandywines. From the three pictured I made a terrific spaghetti sauce which we ate for two nights. The small ones are Brown Berry, good for snacking.