Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rutless in 2012

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible.
~Welsh proverb

Ruts are easy to fall into.
I don’t mean the kind along the road but the kind that keeps you from trying new things.

Today as I am watching the snow fall on my Tuscan kale and Brussels Sprouts, I am deciding which new and which old favorite varieties of vegetables to grow this year. So far I’ve got 3 new to try.

With our Pacific Northwest growing season, there are many things to consider when selecting what to grow. For one thing, we have a short growing season so varieties needing over 100 days to mature are not necessarily going to make it before the season changes and the plant begins to decline.

Another, being only a mile from the water, the temps in my garden don’t necessarily get hot enough to ripen many vegetables like in those gardens more inland. With both those factors, melons, peppers and many others just will never produce and ripen for me. Some veggies need a certain number of heat units for full maturity. Some summers that isn’t a problem but for the last two it has been.

All that to say we are unpredictable in the weather department so tried and true varieties take much of the frustration out of gardening. Not a bad idea, as a matter of fact I’ve said many times on this blog that learning what works and what doesn’t from the more experienced gardeners around you is a great way to go.

However, experimentation can lead you to find something you’d never have found otherwise. For instance I’ve settled into only growing Stupice tomatoes for several years now. Stupice, with 65 days to maturity, is an heirloom variety that grows and ripens consistently in both sunny, warm conditions as well as in our often wet, cloudy and cool summers. That’s early for a mid size tomato so I’m getting ripe fruit sooner than most. While perusing my Nichols Garden Nursery catalog this year I’ve decided to try Willamette, a hybrid developed by Oregon State University for short season areas like ours. A medium size tomato with a 70 day maturation, it claims “good production in spite of false springs, late chills, damp or dry summers”. How can it fail I wonder, so I’m going to plant it instead of Stupice this year and see what I think of it.

Over this past winter I also have been preparing more squash for our meals. I’ve never been a fan of squash, with the exception of zucchini (courgettes) but Shari’s blog has peaked my interest in cooking with squash since she writes about how healthy it is. I’ve found I like acorn squash more than delicata and butternut, so I thought I’d try growing Sweet Reba, an acorn bush variety with a 90 day maturation.

I’m also going to try cucumber Rocky which I found in Territorial Seed catalog. At 48 days this hybrid is a tad earlier than my old standby Marketmore at 55 days. Rocky is a one bite size seedless variety.

Last but not least…the bees. This year I wrapped the beehive against the coldest of winter temps. The only warming efforts I’ve taken in winters past is to strap on a plywood wind break and plug in 2 strands of Christmas lights (the old style that heat up) under the box for some bottom warmth. It’s not a lot but it can add a few degrees to keep a tender perennial alive so I do it for the bees too. Beware if you try this, you may get laughed at by some beekeepers but I didn’t care when they laughed at me. Mine survived that winter when many of theirs didn’t. Dale, my beekeeping friend down the street convinced me to try a wrap this year. He found 4’ x 8’ (1.21 x 2.43 m) sheet polystyrene at the hardware store that cut down would be perfect to use. I opted for the 1 ½ inch thickness. Hive wrapping is a common practice in the upper Midwest and Northeastern U.S. but not so much here. In our temperate climate with mild winters, depending on who you ask, some beeks will wrap and some adamantly will not, believing a wrap gives the bees a false sense of warmth with detrimental results. I’ve never done it, even told new beekeepers not to do it because of the death stories I’d heard. That said, I have given it much thought over the years. If you consider the natural cavity of a dead, hollow tree is probably inches thick and that is a natural cavity honeybees will use in the wild. The standard Langstroth hive body box is ¾ of an inch (1.78cm) thick. The BeeMax polystyrene hive bodies available from Dadant claim better insulation in both summer and winter, and are thicker than a wood hive box but I can’t find the actual dimension in the catalog. Sooo… I decided to give a wrap a try. I may only leave the wrap on in the most frigid of temps…that is yet to be determined.

It’s a new year. What will you try new in your garden?

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Sarcococca confuse, Heather (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), winter pansies

Authors photos

Monday, January 2, 2012

Rose Hips. Winter's Gems

"Another fresh new year is here . . .
Another year to live!
To banish worry, doubt, and fear,
To love and laugh and give!

This bright new year is given me
To live each day with zest . . .
To daily grow and try to be
My highest and my best!

I have the opportunity
Once more to right some wrongs,
To pray for peace, to plant a tree,
And sing more joyful songs!"  ~ William Arthur Ward

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were a stellar days here in the Pacific Northwest! They were crisp, cold and gloriously sunny with just a few wispy clouds overhead. The blue skies gave promise of joy in the New Year.

As we started on a long, hilly walk Saturday I noticed a squirrel in my rose bush in the front yard. It was eating the rose hips. I’d noticed some birds doing the same thing last week but I can’t say I’d ever seen a squirrel eating them. It stayed for quite a while before moving on to the seeds of my neighbors lilac tree.

When I started gardening I was told you must keep rose hips from forming or they would take strength from the rose, weakening it year after year. Now I believe quite the opposite. Rose hips are simply the seed pods that form once the flower is finished. For the plant it is one method of survival to form seeds to drop and grow more of itself. In fall when the day length shortens and temperatures drop it is also a signal to the plant that it’s time for it to power down for a dormancy period…like winter. A dormant plant will not succumb to winter’s damaging temperatures, or at least will have a better chance of survival.

The key is to know when to cut the faded flowers off and when to leave them to form hips. Keeping your roses deadheaded does indeed keep the blooms coming. I deadhead my roses all spring and summer, but once fall is well underway I stop deadheading. Let the flower whither on the stem, let the petals fall and in time you’ll see the rose hips forming.

Not all rose varieties have showy hips. Some are very small and not colorful. As you peruse the catalogs and nurseries, look specifically for reference to hips in the plants information tag if you want the lovely winter jewels for your garden. Some are as big as cherry tomatoes as seen in this picture. This is not my rose but I believe it is a Rugosa variety.

These are the lovely orangey hips from Bonica.

These are the hips the squirrel and birds were feasting on. I often tuck stems of these tiny bright red hips into my Christmas decorations.

You may have heard of how high rose hips are in Vitamin C. They are often used as the main source of Vitamin C in commercial supplements. I’ve eaten one once and found it bitter. My friend found it rather tasty. Now I know we picked it too early, as they sweeten after the first frost. Rose hips are used in many recipes of jellies, jams, tea, purees, sauces and syrups. Culinary rose water is made from the flower petals however. Harvest your rose hips after the first frost and prepare them by trimming off the stem and blossom ends, cutting them in half and removing the seeds then washing them well. I must stress how important it is to grow your roses organically whether they are used for your food or allowed as food for wild life. Chemicals are not needed to grow great disease free roses and many pesticide chemicals are systemic, traveling through the plant’s tissues. They cannot be washed off.

Minimal fall garden cleanup such as this gives a bounty of seeds and berries and hips in my garden for the wildlife to feed on during the winter months. And it provides endless hours of entertainment for me. Bird watching aside, I’m also getting ready to start some seeds on the window sill for spring planting. Oh and by the way, thus far the bees are faring well.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am unable to post as often as I had previously or would like to but I plan to keep this blog active and someday hope to pick up the pace again. Sorry for the long lapses in posts, I hope you’ll stick with me. You can receive new posts via email if that’s more convenient for you by using the email button in the right hand column.

Thanks for reading! Looking forward to a new year of gardening with you.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Heather (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Geum, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, winter pansies, Alyssum, Sarcococca confusa

Author’s photos