Monday, April 27, 2015

Dried Flowers and Pods

When I clear out the garden beds in the spring, I always get side-tracked by all of the cool seed pods and dried flowers. In many ways they are just as lovely as the flower in bloom, but in a different way. They are a kind of graphic art form.

I can’t help but think of printmaker Angie Lewin’s work when I see dried pods and flowers because her art is so inspired by them.

Some plants I purposefully let go in the fall. For instance, the purple coneflowers are a favorite of the goldfinches, so I leave them so they get fed in the fall and so I can enjoy watching them. 

Once all seeds are plucked from the coneflower, they look kind of like a girl in a grass skirt.

I usually cut back the Raspberry Wine Monarda in the fall, but a few were found here and there as I cleared out the beds. When you see the flower dried like this you understand why they are a favorite of the hummingbirds with their tubular shape. The shape seems more pronounced in its dried form.

This hydrangea flower has such an interesting skeletal look.

One of my absolute favorite seed pods is the Siberian Iris. What a fantastic shape and texture these pods have. You would never guess this was an Iris in the summer.

I like to gather some of the pods and use them as filler in floral arrangements or put them in vases by themselves. That way I get to really enjoy and appreciate their beauty.

Planning and Prepping the Kitchen Garden

April is crazy-time. It is the busiest month of the year for this gardener. Clearing out garden beds, weeding, pruning shrubs and roses, planning the Kitchen Garden, buying seeds, adding compost to the raised beds, and planting seeds in the greenhouse and under the row covers in the Kitchen Garden, just to name a few chores. This also was a busy month for me outside of the garden this year – working overtime, running weekly meetings, and reading a book for a weekly book club at work, plus taking the last of my classes for my web design certificate, doing reading for that, and working on my final project, which was due last Thursday. (After two years of night classes and homework, I officially get my web design certificate this Thursday – wahoo!) Needless to say, I am running behind on my April garden chores.

I was sketching out, erasing, sketching out again, my Kitchen Garden map for 2015. I often show the end result of this map, but never how it starts. Below is how it begins: I print out a map of the shape of the beds (top part is spring, bottom part is fall) and using a pencil and eraser I start fleshing it out. I write notes about what I need to buy, what I already have, use symbols for perennial or annual, write down the plant height, and indicate what I will plant as seeds and what will be plants that I buy. What does the chopstick have to do with anything, you ask? I mark a chopstick with 1/4", 1/2", 3/4", and an inch and use that to poke holes in the soil at the correct depth, or use it to score a row in the soil at the write depth. I have plenty of extra chopsticks from all of my take-out sushi nights (mmmm....sushi...).

This year I went mostly with organic seeds. I figure that I garden organically, so organic seeds probably have the best chance in my beds. Plus, it just feels right using organic. The bulk of my seeds are from Hudson Valley Seed Library and Seeds of Change. I really like what these two companies are all about and it feels good supporting them. I’m often a Burpee girl, but only one from them this year – the Alaska Nasturtium that did so well last year.

I keep my seeds in a plastic container. I separate them out by what I need to start indoors and what I can plant outdoors under my row covers, and this year I also had one that needed cold stratification (milkweed). They get put in baggies that are marked with the year and where they get started.

Some seedlings in the greenhouse include Doe Hill Pepper and Starflower, both from Hudson Valley Seed Library. The milkweed is also in the greenhouse since it has finished its three weeks of cold stratification in the fridge. Now sprouts on that yet, though. I use APS systems from Gardener’s Supply Company for growing my greenhouse seeds, as well as their organic seed mix. I just have an ordinary florescent overhead light that I use. I have plans to go more “professional,” or at least less amateurish, at some point, just haven’t gotten around to it yet. This system seems to work ok, though.

I planted my seeds under the row covers in the Kitchen Garden this past weekend – one to two weeks later than usual. In my defense, it has been a very cold spring making it tough to get started on things too early. But if I was to be really honest, I was behind with it due to my hectic schedule.

Spinach that I had planted last fall miraculously survived the bitter cold winter and is thriving (even more so now than in this photo I took a couple of weeks ago). I planned around the spinach.

The Sorrel is also looking great right now. It is a perennial and seems to like the chilly spring weather. I absolutely love the flavor of Sorrel. Really nice added in a salad.

For the seeds under the row covers, all I need to do at this point is keep them watered. Nature takes care of the rest. I won’t remove the covers until Mother’s Day weekend. We sometimes get frost up until that weekend, so that has become my annual indicator that it is time to uncover what will be seedlings or small plants by then. Can’t wait to be able to harvest some things! Although first I need to use up some of that Spinach and Sorrel!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Milkweed for the Monarchs

I have posted several times about monarchs and the need to do what we can to help protect them and provide a habitat for them. I added milkweed to my garden last year and my garden is a certified Monarch Waystation. More milkweed is needed, though, so I started some seeds a few weeks ago.

My seeds are Asciepias syriaca from Hudson Valley Seed Library. Cold stratification is required for these seeds. That means they need cold, moist conditions in order to encourage germination. To achieve this, you could plant the seeds outside in the fall or early winter, or if you are busy like me and tend to have too much fall clean-up to do to plant much, you can wait until spring and do artificial cold stratification. Got a fridge? Then you can do artificial cold stratification.

The instructions call for deep pots, so I actually used some plastic cups and punched holes in the bottom. I use Gardener’s Supply Germinating Mix for all of my seeds. I have had a lot of success with their mix. I mixed it a tubtrug with water until it was damp. I use chopsticks to poke holes in the soil and mark the chopsticks with measurements so that I plant at the correct depth. The plastic cups are placed inside a baking dish that is lined with a wet paper towel. Every so often I pour more water into the dish to keep it damp. The cups are covered with plastic wrap that is held on with rubber bands. (To be honest, I just made up this process and assume it will work.)

This has been living in my refrigerator for almost three weeks now.

On Monday I will take them out and move them to the greenhouse. Then, assuming they do well, I can move them outside after the last frost date. Fingers crossed I get some nice milkweed plants this year. Gotta help those magnificent monarchs!

Spooky Spider

About a week ago I spotted this really spooky spider on one of my plants in the greenhouse. I literally screamed when I saw it. From the tip of its top leg to the tip of its bottom leg it was at least 4 inches long, if not more.

Notice how it has these things protruding from its head?!?! Eeek! And such an odd-shaped body with enormously long legs. My first thought was, I hope this isn’t poisonous. My second though was, where the heck did this thing come from?! I have never seen a spider like this before in my yard or in my greenhouse.

My co-worker  Doug, does a lot of magical macro photography of insects and has an affinity for spiders. Check out his instagram and his flickr page. Seriously gorgeous stuff there. I thought maybe he could identify this spider, but he couldn’t. I asked him to come photograph it and take it home with him, but he didn’t think it had an interesting enough face. :o) I said I was worried it was poisonous and he said he doubted it and to let it stay in the greenhouse to take care of any bad insects that might be in there. Good idea, Doug. So that’s what I did. I decided if he was going to stick around, he needed a name. I named him Sid because his long, spiky legs made me think of the spiky hair of Sid Vicious.

Admittedly, ever since I first spotted Sid, I kept an eye out for him because he really creeped me out. I would look for him every night when I went into the greenhouse to check on my seeds. He stuck to the same plant for a couple of days, then I couldn’t find him. Did he crawl his way over to some other plant? Did he die? What is the life span of a spider anyway? I still look for him every time I go in there. Sid, I think I kinda miss you. If you did die, I hope you had a nice life in my greenhouse.