Archive for April, 2012

Cole Crops: The Goldilocks of Vegetables

Posted in gardening with tags , , , , , on April 25, 2012 by planthoarder

Broccoli, cauliflower, and kohlrabi are not the easiest vegetables for spring growing in Wisconsin. They’re a bit fussy. Wisconsin’s climate is a bit, how can I say this politely, unpredictable. Before cole crops have four or so leaves, they don’t mind a little nip in the air, though they can’t take a hard frost. After that they want to grow over a nice climate controlled summer, as if they had air conditioning for days over 75 degrees F (20 C) and central heating for days under 50 degrees (10 C). Too hot and they languish, too cold while they’re yourng and they’ll bolt or button (sounds cute, but it isn’t). Once they reach maturity, they are tough as nails and love the cold, in fact harvest is at its best after a frost or two, until then what they do not want is stress. Wimps.

Wisconsin in the spring, has terrible temperature swings. Part of me knew better than to even try, but oddly the other part seems to win more often than not. I started out with high hopes, planting the seeds indoors and expecting them to sprout in a week or two, but no, they were in a hurry. Now they’re ahead of schedule like guests who come early to find you still mopping up. They need to go out regardless of the forecast (the cole crops, not the guests). There are a couple of things to be done to moderate the temperature. They’ll start out with floating row cover to capture a few extra degrees of heat until temperatures get too warm. An added benefit is the protection it will offer from the cabbage whites. Yes, I saw one yesterday.

My love claims the weather forecasters expect a cool summer. I’ll do my best to baby them with the even moisture and nitrogen they like, and hope they reward me with a generous bounty or at least a few respectable meals. If not, well, I’ll bite back my pride and remember, there’s always the fall.

Frost

Posted in gardening with tags , , , on April 24, 2012 by planthoarder

It’s no surprise there’s frost again. Our average last frost is in mid-May. People sometimes ask me whether a particular plant will survive the frost. My unsatisfying answer? It all depends. A plant can be perfectly hardy over the winter, but can be hit back hard after it starts growing. Sometimes it’s as fussy as the degree to which it’s grown. Remember my yellow fairy bells? The long shoots that had drooping bells were devastated by frost. The short upright shoots just springing from the ground are fine.

Sometimes you lose the fruit, sometimes the flowers, and sometimes the leaves. Some plant’s appearance can absolutely shock you. My peony shoots look like the McDonald’s arches most mornings lately, but later in the day they continue their reach for the sky. Whatever you do, don’t dig up and dispose of a perennial plant, especially a shrub or tree, just because it’s lost all its leaves to frost.¬† Where there are roots, there can still be life.

Today I’ve posted imperfect photos hoping you can see the beauty despite the imperfection. Faithful readers have been kind enough to compliment my snapshots, so I posted a page (Snapshot Dilletante) on my homepage offering my thoughts on flower photography. I hope you feel inspired to take some pictures in your garden. If we can capture a tiny glimpse of the beauty of nature, we’ll have done well.

A Few for the Shade

Posted in gardening with tags , , on April 16, 2012 by planthoarder

There’s magic in the garden: fairy wings,¬† fairy bells, and bleeding hearts. I’d always called epimediums bishop’s hats, and their leaves do have a lop-sided miter look to them. The name fairy wings sounds lovely, though, and very fitting for the garden. Their small flowers seem to float in the garden on their wiry stems and their buds are reminiscent of bleeding hearts. This photo seems to have captured an alien invasion, but trust me, they’re very pretty and come in peace.

 

 

Sometimes I get confused between merry bells, Uvularia, and fairy bells, Disporum. These yellow fairy bells are just starting to bloom, they’ll soon hang like the bells they’re named after, but I had to snap a quick photo while it had a little friend scurrying about. For some reason I get a real delight from bugs in the garden, so long as they aren’t chomping on “my” plants. Sometimes I don’t like to share…

 

…unless it’s a wonderful gift like this bleeding heart. Many bleeding hearts available are from a sterile clone, but this one was a seedling that was shared with me. Now it scatters seedlings around my garden. Whether that’s a blessing or a curse is unclear at the moment, but there is no doubt I adore its chains of hearts. I have the extremely elegant white one too, but my favorite is the Valentine’s pink. Each flower, in its own way, adds a little magic to the shade garden.

Shards of Frost

Posted in gardening with tags , , , , on April 13, 2012 by planthoarder

This spring is so nerve-wracking with frost threatening the past couple of nights, especially with all the warm weather tempting flowers to put out tender buds. Thankfully, the magnolias¬† finished blooming before the frost set in. The veggies in the unheated greenhouse escaped unscathed, but just barely. The next few nights are predicted to be much warmer, so the tomato plants are headed out into the greenhouse this morning. They are very soft from being grown under fluorescent lights so they need some stress, but not too much of a chill, to toughen them up before they go out into the garden in a few weeks. If the nights get too cold again, they’ll be whisked back into the warmth of the house.

It’s been a crazy weather roller coaster, and frankly I get motion sick. At least that’s the feeling I have knowing that the frost came just as the first year of Asian pear blossoms were finishing. Will there be any fruit? I know the rhubarb won’t let me down. The stalks are about 8″ (20 cm) now, I was hoping they’d be at least 10″ (25cm) before I began harvesting. I didn’t grow up with rhubarb. How do you know when to start picking them? Does size matter? I’m more than ready for some rhubarb kuchen so break it to me gently if I have to wait.

With a whole summer full of flowers ahead, I really shouldn’t whine about the few I may have lost to frost or the need to wait for my rhubarb. The peonies enjoy the cooler weather and there are early spring wildflowers even now ready to bloom. As the last shards of frost melt away with the warmth of the sun, we can only appreciate the beauty and the bounty that surrounds us and anticipate so much more to come.

Corpse Flower from a Safe Distance

Posted in gardening with tags , , on April 8, 2012 by planthoarder

Today My Love complained to me about the smell in the basement. Finally, my Amorphopallus rivieri is blooming! Though it has a flower more appropriate to Halloween than Easter, it’s been in my basement without soil all winter. My Love complained as I brought the corpse flower up the stairs and through the house to put it outside. Not everyone appreciates the smell of rotting meat, not even me, but it doesn’t keep me from growing this fascinating flower with its oxblood spathe and spadix and mottled stem.

My concern right now is the frost we are expecting for the next couple of nights. I think I will have to sneak my plant back in this evening and out again in the morning when My Love isn’t looking. He puts up with a lot, seed flats on top of the refrigerator, Ziploc bags of dirt inside it, but this? It will all be worth it this summer. Its leaf looks like something from the time of the dinosaurs and dwarfs the related jack-in-the-pulpits in the shade of the spruce trees. For now I thought I’d share a couple pictures of its flower so you can appreciate its weird beauty from a safe distance.

Posy Paparazzi

Posted in gardening with tags , , , on April 3, 2012 by planthoarder

One of the best things about blogging is the opportunity to share the beauty of my flowers and yours. If only you could smell the fragrance of my mom’s mini iris, hiding behind the moss phlox, or see the swaying branches of our weeping cherry. If only I could taste those gorgeous heirloom tomatoes everyone keeps posting! All I can share with you is a few photos, a few sentences. and a love of plants. Someday I should read a book about floral photography since right now I just take a picture of anything that catches my eye. Given that it’s spring, nearly everything does!

Whenever I photograph a flower, I find myself laying in the dirt. The only “bird’s eye view” that interests me is that of a robin looking for worms. Is it my fault all the good stuff is springing out of the ground? Walking around the garden like a miser searching for a lost coin, I’m happier than said miser when I find a pretty flower. Suddenly, I’m on my hands and knees looking for the best angle for my little plant portrait, admiring a blossom dressed in dew and sunlight and wishing I had a macro lens.

My family is frustrated that I can’t wear “nice” clothes, because I’m forever getting them full of dirt and twigs after rushing back into the shed or house for a shovel or my camera. My Love is doubly frustrated that I want to run out to the store with mud on my pants and coat. I don’t mean to embarrass him, really, but I’ll just get my clean clothes dirty when I get back, because, don’t you see, I just have to take another picture.