Wednesday, February 24, 2021

February Snow and Sorting Seeds

Astolat Farm, February 2021

My blog became a teenager this week. I started my first post with a picture of our house, February 21, 2008. There was no snow in the picture that day. This year, however, we were in a three-day snow storm when the month began, and it seems to have snowed every day since.

Some highlights of the month: the rest of my seeds arrived, I had a lovely Valentine's Day, I finished planning my spring vegetable and cutting gardens, and I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count again. I'll start with the seeds. (Those of you who have been following this blog for the past 13 years can just scroll down to the bird and snow pictures as I write much the same every year. Sorry.)


I followed my usual procedure for sorting seeds and planning the new season's kitchen garden. For those who don't know me, I have a fenced-in kitchen garden with picket fencing on two sides and pasture fencing on the remaining two sides. (I wish the picket fence went all the way around, but we cannot afford it.) The area is approximately 35 feet x 37 feet. The focal point of my kitchen garden is my potting shed, which has an acrylic glass roof and cold frames on the south side. In the kitchen garden we constructed four raised beds 8 feet x 4 feet each and several grow-boxes. A 'lasagna' bed along the picket fence is my cutting garden. I grow my vegetables and herbs in raised beds for several reasons: they provide better drainage, I can more easily control the growing medium, they heat up faster in spring (important in the short-growing season of the Pocono Mountains), and they are not effected by toxins from the walnut tree in the vicinity. Also, when the soil is shin level, weeding and harvesting is less hard on the back. My kitchen garden is located in an area of full sun.


The Kitchen Garden and Potting Shed

There are four planning steps.

Step 1: I begin by separating the seed packets into flowers and vegetables. I then divide them into 'start indoors' and 'direct sow.' These directions are on the seed packet. For example, larger seeds such as beans and corn, do best if you sow them directly into the garden.

I utilize the dining-room table to begin the sorting process.  (Note the miniature rose and the unusual 'hedgehog' card that Duane gave me for Valentine's Day)


Step 2: I plan to start seeds indoors so they are at the correct stage of development to move outside after the last frost. On average the last frost in the Poconos is May 23 (the Poconos has a frost-free growing season of around 123 days -- not very long, is it?) If the seed packet says 'Start seeds indoors 4-8 weeks prior to the last frost of spring' I count back on the calendar to April 7 as the date to start them indoors.  I use index cards to separate the seed packets by date, arranging them in a wooden trug that I bought many years ago from Home Goods.

I'll be starting my first seeds indoors on March 1.


Step 3: I put the seed-starting and direct-sowing dates on a calendar dedicated to this purpose. I will use this calendar for making notes on germination, potting on, frosts, what worked and what didn't, etc. 


I'm almost ready to start sowing!
Step 4: The last job is to plan where the vegetables and flowers will be located in the kitchen garden. I try to group vegetables of the same family together then follow a four-year rotation. I rotate the crops to avoid diseases. The long bed on the right of the diagram is my cutting garden.


The diagram of my kitchen garden is more or less to scale.

So now I am ready to sow; I'll be starting broccoli indoors on March 1st. How are you doing with your spring planning?

The Great Backyard Bird Count did not bring any unusual birds into my garden, but I really enjoyed lots of juncos, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, sparrows, cardinals, and a pair of wrens that continue to provide us with endless entertainment.

The hairy woodpecker. He has a longer beak than the downy woodpecker. Both visited for GBBC.
A white-breasted nuthatch

One of two Carolina wrens that visit the back porch every day

 Of course, the squirrels always spoil the fun by scaring away the birds. They look for ways to climb onto the bird feeder that hangs on the porch.  One of them thought he could jump from the top of the jug nesting box there, but it was too far.

The squirrel is eying the seeds in the bird feeder hanging nearby.

I don't leave the house often when its cold and icy, but ventured into the garden yesterday to take a few pictures.  I mentioned last time that there are usually some signs of spring by now: the first snowdrop blooms, lots of hellebore buds, and the green shoots of daffodils and of other spring bulbs. I can only trust that Mother Nature is working her magic under the two feet, or so, of snow that remains, and that when it finally melts away, all those glories will be revealed. I have to reassure myself that the snow is providing my plants with a protective blanket from the severe cold. I am trying very hard not to complain because I am not experiencing anything as devastating as that of our Texas friends. As I pray for them, I thank God for my warm home, electricity, and abundant water whenever I turn on the faucet.

The red twig dogwood is a multi-stemmed shrub with outstanding coral-red branches.

A small hole in Froggy Pond allows the fish to get oxygen -- there is a heater there. Froggy is almost entirely buried under the snow

Froggy doesn't look too happy, does he?
I wonder which creature made the tracks under the walnut tree?

The goats grew lovely, thick coats to keep them warm through this unexpectedly snowy month.

I think the three goats are as tired of the snow as I am.

From left to right: Doodles (at the back), Bilbo, and Taz


Today was special in two ways: the thaw began and I got my second COVID vaccination!

I am linking with Sarah in Dorset, England at Down by the Sea for a peep over her garden gate at her February garden. I'm sure she will have some blooms already-- giving me hope that mine wont be far behind. 

Stay safe and well dear friends. 


Pamela x


My potting shed this month

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Sunday, January 31, 2021

This Month in the Garden: January 2021


What a difference a year makes. Looking back at my January 2020's 'This Month in the Garden' post, I see the shoots of daffodils and crocuses were pushing up through the ground and there were fat buds on hellebores, rhododendron, and Pieris. At the time, I didn't appreciate this wonderful beginning to the (disastrous) year. A walk around my gardens yesterday --dressed in so many layers against the bitter cold that I felt like Ralphie's little brother in A Christmas Story-- revealed no shoots nor fat buds, nothing but a ground that is frozen solid. This is one of the reasons I blog; I love to look back and compare years. The ground is now blanketed in snow from the 'great blizzard' that started today, Sunday, and is forecast to last until Tuesday. An event that hasn't happened for some time. I'm thinking spring may be a little late this year. 

As with the every winter season in the Northeast, all gardening activities have moved indoors. I'm forcing bulbs, taking care of my houseplants, and planning my spring gardens. I showed some of the bulbs I had forced in my last posting. Here is a short photographic tour of more January (indoor) garden activities.

Amaryllis 'Aphrodite' may be my favorite. This bulb produced nine gorgeous blooms.

As 'Aphrodite' faded, Amaryllis 'Barbados' opened its vibrant, velvety petals.


My little hydroponic garden on the kitchen counter has produced lettuce non-stop for more than a year now. I have a second one for herbs, but I am waiting for new seed pods. The Aerogarden systems are rather expensive (I think) but so much fun.

The lettuce doesn't need much attention. I just top up the water each morning and add plant food when the green light turns red. I snip off no more than a third of the leaves for our daily salads.

Houseplants are not my forté, but I think I am getting better at caring for them. I've found that if I keep them well groomed, they don't look so bad. So I'm careful to snip off dead stuff daily. I purchased an inexpensive gauge that shows me when a plant needs water, and that really helps. I don't have a whole lot of houseplants because I feel this house doesn't have enough light, and I definitely have little room.

A few of my houseplants

Every winter, Duane buys me a potted primrose to place on my writing table.

January is for the birds! The first two pictures were taken earlier in the month -- no snow.

Red-bellied Wood Pecker

American Mockingbird

Two tufted titmice on the feeder as the snow fell this afternoon

Grandson Jon visited last weekend. We 'shopped' for seeds and plants. He browsed the catalogs for plants for a new miniature garden that he is planning. He persuaded me to be more adventurous with seeds for the Kitchen Garden. 'You have to try something new,' he said. We decided on pak choi, that he loves to cook with, but I have never used. OK, only one new thing, but you have to start somewhere. We did choose different zinnias for the cutting garden, as I do every year. I decided to order from Johnny's Selected Seeds because they have my favorite 'Zowie! Yellow Flame'. We put together a substantial order, went online to place it, to find out that Johnny's is selling to farmers only now. They stopped selling to home gardeners because of the enormous amount of orders they were receiving. Bad news for me, but it means that the new gardeners, who began last year due to Covid, are still interested. That is wonderful!! Oh, and I ordered from the reliable Burpee and Annie's. I received the Burpee order today. No 'Zowee!' though.

New seeds mean a countdown to spring.

I am linking with Sarah at Down by the Sea for her 'Over the Garden Gate' meme. She has been watching the birds, too, in England this month. What have you been up to?

Stay safe and well!


Pamela x

Just a couple of inches of snow by mid afternoon

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Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Joys and Tribulations of the 2020 Gardening Year

Midsummer 2020 in the Cottage Garden

It is time for me to reflect on the year that has been and to start planning for the gardening year ahead. It was a terrible year on many levels, but not in my garden; my garden was fabulous. Of course, 2020 brought pests, diseases (I'm referring to my plants not to the Pandemic,) weather disasters, mistakes made by this gardener, and losses of plants and, even worse, pets. The problems were outweighed, however, by the successes and the resulting beauty of it all. My garden sustained me; it gave me hope through the worst of times. So let's take a look at each season, celebrating the achievements and considering the lessons learned.
I had various winter projects, as always. For the first time, I grew paperwhites on pebbles. Not a total success as I had the water level too high and some of the bulbs rotted. I also found that the strong smell of the flowers was unpleasant to me. So I am only showing you the amarylis that I am growing on pebbles this winter. Both are doing well.
I learned from last year and I'm not allowing these amarylis bulbs to sit in water.

Another winter activity, as always, was to watch the backyard birds. I was thrilled to see bluebirds return. I took part in the Great Backyard Bird Count in February and look forward to this year's event. I'm giving it a shout out at the end of this posting. 

I enjoyed a large variety of birds on the feeder and heated water dish all winter. Bluebirds are my favorite.
In March, the 2020 Philadelphia Flower Show, with its Mediterranean theme, was one of my favorites. Attending the show had become an annual event, greatly anticipated by Duane and me. We traveled there by train and stayed overnight at a hotel in the show's locale. As with many events, COVID has caused mayor changes this year. The show will be held at an outside venue at a later date.  I'm not sure how that will work for us, so for the first time, I'm not buying tickets in advance. But wonderful memories of last year's show.
The Philadelphia Flower Show in March was my last big outing before the lockdown.

Spring flowers bloomed early after a mild winter. A late-April frost, however, took the buds on the weeping redbud and on hostas.
Hellebores and daffodils bloomed early in 2020.

I was anxious for Duane to open the pond so that I could see how our newly-acquired frog spitter looked. It exceeded my expectations. After all, we named the pond Froggy Pond some years back. Unfortunately, we had trouble with hawks and herons taking the fish and frogs this time. We added some decoys as both birds are territorial: a fake heron and an owl. They seemed to do the trick. We successfully repaired a leak in the pond -- I'm proud of that!
When we opened Froggy pond we added the frog spitter.

The Kitchen Garden didn't live up to expectations last season. I didn't protect the early crops from rabbits and groundhogs and lost a lot of produce: snowpeas, bush beans, and spinach. I will protect them this year. The rhubarb went to seed before we could eat any (not for the first time.) You can see it bottom right in the picture. I think it was the variety, so I pulled it out, and must research its replacement (in a different spot, of course.)
The Kitchen Garden looked promising at the end of April.

I planted the window boxes with stunning Supertunias®. They were Vista Silverberry and Vista Bubblegum. I like to choose different colors each year - hope I'm equally successful in 2021. 

The five window boxes were very successful in 2020

 SUMMER 2020
 It was a good year for roses! Fingers are crossed (again) for this year.
The roses did extremely well. Hoping for success in 2021.
We replaced the catalapa that we felled the previous year with a dawn redwood (Metasequoia). It grew several feet taller before the end of the season. The lawn around the new tree still needs to be leveled and reseeded. This will be one of the first jobs for 2021.
The new dawn redwood was planted in June 2020 to replace the felled catalapa.

When the Cottage Garden peaked in midsummer it was stunning. In the cutting garden, zinnias ruled. There was a storm in August with very heavy rain that necessitated putting supports in place. The rain garden overflowed; we will extend it this year.
The cottage garden and the cutting garden peaked in July and were dazzling.

I was pleased with my container plantings.
Pleasing planters and charming clematis at the entrance to the Kitchen Garden

My gardening buddies caused some sad moments ...
Charm, my miniature horse, passed away July 1 from colic. Billy, the white goat, died a month later from old age. 

I missed them so much as I went about my gardening tasks. They were always on the other side of the fence to keep me company. Poor Doodles was so lonely. We were very fortunate that our vet found him some companions.

The goat group are very happy together. From the left: Bilboe, Doodles, and Taz.

FALL 2020

The highlight of the year for me was the September wedding for which I was honored to do the flowers. This posy was for one of the little flower girls.

Jonathan helped me make the wedding bouquets. He also made a stumpery, complete with gnomes and cut logs from the catalpa tree -- happy memories. 
The Stumpery
"The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you've come." -- Unknown
The problem with this type of posting is deciding which pictures to choose - I have so many.  Also, I tried to touch on things that I hadn't mentioned other years. But when you have been gardening and blogging as long as me, it's difficult.
 Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, January 2021
I do have a few blooms today so that I am able to link with May Dreams Gardens for GBBD, better late than never. Thank you to our lovely host, Carol. 
Not blooming yet, but close.
I forced tulip and grape hyacinth bulbs.
Flaming Katy, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana

Wishing you a happy and successful gardening year. Let's all pray that the present troubles, in the world and in this country, will soon be over. 
Stay safe and healthy,
Pamela x

Mark the Date
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