17 March 2017

Sugar and Ice

The late spring storm produced 2 inches (5 cm) of sleet and ice that accumulated into a heavy frozen sugary coating. Then the freezing rain solidified everything. The hyacinth showed the most damage by changing strange colors. The white blooms showed yellow, and the blue began showing purple (much like we do when we get too cold).





10 February 2017

Dreaming of Summer

It's the middle of February and Virginia was teased with two sunny days at 71 degrees (21 C). The next day brought snow showers and cold winter winds. Reviewing photos, I came across last year's Memorial Day (May 29) hike in the Catoctin Mountains outside Thurmont, Maryland.

The falls are within the Cunningham Falls State Park. I took the 'difficult' trail to the falls from the parking lot. No kidding! Several sections were as vertical as the falls themselves.
It was rumored that this was the spot along the trail that was home to a hibernating furry animal over the winter. Most said a bear. Looks quite cozy.
The trail continued back to the parking lot -- but this leg was an "easy" hike through the woods.
A closeup of the bark of a fast-growing Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), native to the southeastern US. The bark is normal to look like it was charred in a fire.
Who would have thought there was a lake on top of a mountain? It was a small reservoir. I couldn't help but take a paddle since they were available, but these strange kayaks let in water. My shorts got wet on the seat. Many stares from hikers on the next hike.
Smack next door (right across the road) is the Cotoctin Mountain Park, a National Park. Why is there a state park adjacent to a national park? Who knows. But there was free admission on Memorial Day. The green canopy tinted the light an incredible color -- nice to look at in February.
The area was the premier spot for alcohol production during Prohibition. The Blue Blazes Still was home to the largest illegal commercial production in the state. The remote, well-hidden location, close to the corn ingredients and wood for fuel, and sympathetic locals financially benefiting all contributed to its success.


This small display was rebuilt from spare parts found in the park.

"On July 31, 1929, Deputy Sheriff Clyde L. Hauver was fatally wounded in a raid on the Blue Blazes Still. It was a large commercial 'steamer' still operation. More than 25,000 gallons of mash were found in 13 vats of 2,000 gallon capacity each. Police eventually tracked down several suspects, and some moonshiners were convicted in connection with the murder after several days of conflicting testimony. Tales of a double-crossing informant, a love triangle, arson, and other rumors spread throughout central Maryland."

23 January 2017

Solomon's Gold

This is the second autumn for the Solomon's Seal, polygonatum. I believe there is only one variegated leaf type, P. odoratum var. pluriflorum, and I got it. I write about it because of the color. I did not remember this intense yellow color last fall.
This is a native of Europe and Asia, but pluriforum is native to East Asia and China. My Solomon was picked up on the cheap at an annual spring plant sale held by a local church. It is growing happily in its mostly light shade and is very well behaved. I was blessed with blossoms last spring and this past spring, although I notice no fragrance with them.

The white margins on the leaves are even more unique when paired with the yellow leaves. I am thinking the autumn color might vary year to year just as it does for deciduous trees.

I always make this mistake: plant on top of others already planted. Last summer I noticed some acanthus leaves poking through around the soil level of the Solomons Seal. That acanthus planted years before apparently did not die. This summer the acanthus came back. I need to extract it from the Solomon Seal and plant it in a more appropriate sunnier spot. Unfortunately there isn't one that is vacant.

For The Record:
  • Clay soil with organic amendments being added yearly
  • Fairly moist site at bottom of slope
  • Mostly light shade
  • No fertilizer
  • No serious pests/disease

15 January 2017

Bring Out Your Red

It started in October, a little later than normal this year. The 2016 poinsettia began its journey to red for 2017. The poinsettia holiday blooms are not really blooms but red leaves and flower bracts.

This one was purchased last Christmas and was not repotted.

The color change began a little late this year. It begins when the leaf petioles begin turning red. After seeing this, we expect the red coloring to continue moving up to the leaves to change them, but that's not how the process works.

After the petioles, the new leaves that are not yet fully grown begin changing. A little chartreuse at first, then a little light beige, then some red tinge begin to appear in them as they continue to mature.


At this time, I give it some regular low doses of nitrogen fertilizer. I want those leaves to grow big, since they will be the red 'petals'.

The light green leaves have matured. All new leaves the plant produces are now solid red. Over time, these mature into the poinsettia in time for the holiday.

The journey to red is not easy. It means coming home from work, fumbling in the dark to find the plant on the east window, taking it to the basement in the dark and putting it to bed until the next morning. Darkness for 12-14 hours is necessary in order for the poinsettia to bloom again.


Somewhat smallish blooms this winter are telling me to repot the plant for next year's holiday season.

30 December 2016

The Great White

The garden slugs of spring ate most of my multicolored carrots this year before I could. Most of the packet of orange, yellow, white, and purple carrot seeds were planted and the seedlings scarfed up by the garden beasties by late spring. I planted the remaining seeds and provided some protection. They were also mixed in with the 3-year old Nantes carrot seeds. Everything went into the ground in hopes of a fall crop.

Carrots were lifted before Thanksgiving and then again before Christmas to enjoy for dinners. Most ended up being orange, no purples, and a few whites. The whopper pictured here was taken out in early November.

This began taking over the small vegetable plot, growing almost 3-feet high (1 m) and flowering like Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota). I actually thought it was just that but was afraid to eat it, knowing that the look-alike Poison Hemlock is, well, poisonous. But I have had neither Queen Anne nor Poison Hemlock in the vegetable garden in 30 years.

The flavor was a bit spicy, having a peppery kick to it and not like carrots we are used to. I put this one into a Minestrone soup, and found it not to my liking.

There was only one other white carrot out of the bunch that was eventually harvested. It was not a carrot-zilla and did not flower. I diced it up for a beef stew where its wacky flavor could add to the recipe and could be drowned out a bit.

20 November 2016

Midget Marigold Mystery Solved

I often grow the dwarf French marigolds as infill border plants never growing more than 8 inches tall (20 cm). One of my favorites is "Tiger Eyes" with the red bottom petals and orange-yellow pom poms. But near the end of each growing season, the red color and the orange tint goes away. The blooms become uniformly yellow.

I thought it might be the cooler weather affecting the coloring as it does some plants. Or, it might be the shorter day length that was causing the change, much like a poinsettia depends on longer nights for its red blooms. I discovered the reason my marigold change color this year by accident.

It is neither the day length nor the temperature that causes the loss of red. The plant simply gets tired. This marigold seed blooms true to its parent. As summer progresses I deadhead the spent blooms, leaving them around the ground near the plant. Some of the seed heads sprouted and grew new plants. Since we had a long growing season this year, getting our first killing frost only last week, these volunteer spouts had enough time to bloom.

The blooms were as colorful as a day in spring, despite the cooler fall temperatures and the shorter days. While the older plants nearby were haggard and blooming uniformly yellow, the new plants were red, robust, and orange-yellow as they were planted in spring. This tells me that as the plant gets old, its bloom colors simply change, like we do.

There is nothing I can do other than to sow successive plantings throughout the summer, something that is not going to happen. We will accept the change as a natural pattern.

15 November 2016

Springing From The Compost

In mid summer, a few vines emerged at the base of the side garden tomato plants. The new plants looked like late sprouts of the zucchini seeds I planted but lost track of when they did not germinate. The seedlings were no problem since one can never have too much zucchini with the evil squash vine borer lurking.

I let these grow, and about a month later realized that they were not zucchini. The two looked more like watermelon or cantaloupe vines. As the season turned to fall, a few fuzzy green balls appeared, about the size of baseballs. The wrinkled netting on the surface identified them as cantaloupe. Strangely, the netting surface covered only one half of the small fruit.

Last month near Halloween, the tops began to show signs of rot, so the fruit was picked and cut open. Each looked like a cantaloupe inside with a saturated orange flesh. It tasted like one too, but unfortunately not as sweet as the store bought.

Some seeds from the compost that I used around the tomato plants sprouted, and the compost did have cantaloupe. I have had tomato seeds sprout from compost, but never cantaloupe. The plants were most likely some parent of a hybrid bred for the stores.

22 October 2016

Into The Pot

Today was cold and windy -- more normal for autumn than the summer weather we enjoyed during the week. This was a perfect day for staying indoors and cooking, and minestrone soup was on the menu. Out of the freezer and into the pot went a bag of green string beans from my summer garden.

Beans
After harvesting green beans, they were washed and sent whole into the freezer. It was an experiment to determine if they could be successfully frozen and later used as an ingredient in soups. For today's minestrone, a bag of beans was steamed to thaw it but beans were not cooked. They kept their shape after being cut, and best of all, they were tasty -- great as a soup ingredient.

Carrots
The carrots for the soup were pulled from the garden a few minutes before going into the pot. Carrots never grew well in my clay soil despite testing several types. Sand added to the soil didn't seem to help. Organic material eventually did (along with the previously added sand) and as long as carrots are planted in that same hospitable spot each year, they do well. I think the carrot shape represents the growing season like rings in a tree -- wet and pleasant at the spring, dry, wet and normal, hot, then recently unusually warm. Remaining carrots stay in the ground until they are used.

Zucchini
As noted in the previous post, they were diced, blanched in boiling water for up to two minutes, cooled in ice water, then frozen. They appear to have lost their firmness going into the freezer, but they may be fine as a soup ingredient.