Friday, December 28, 2012

December Sunrise

As I was walking out to my car this morning, a flash of pink caught my eye. I managed to grab my camera and capture the tail end of an amazing December sunrise.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Special Christmas Present

For Christmas this year I was spoiled with many lovely presents. However, one really stood out. My Sister-in-law Cathy commissioned our family friend John Pelliter to do a pastel drawing of my garden. Back in October, when we were all gone at a Duck football game, John came over to the house. He went down to the garden and created this one of a kind drawing for me. The dahlias were still in bloom and John captured everything perfectly. Below, the "live" view today. Thanks to John and to the Cookson family for my special gift!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

"From our happy home
Through the world we roam
One week in all the year,
Making winter spring
With the joy we bring
For Christmas-tide is here.

Now the eastern star
Shines from afar
To light the poorest home;
Hearts warmer grow,
Gifts freely flow,
For Christmas-tide has come.

Now gay trees rise
Before young eyes,
Abloom with tempting cheer;
Blithe voices sing,
And blithe bells ring,
For Christmas-tide is here.

Oh, happy chime,
Oh, blessed time,
That draws us all so near!
"Welcome, dear day,"
All creatures say,
For Christmas-tide is here."

Louisa Alcott

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Eve Walk

I managed to find some time to take a hike around the property today. In the last four days, we have received another 2" of rain. Thankfully, today was dry and there were a few sun breaks as well. The creeks were running high today but not all full capacity.

As you can tell from the washed out bank, the creek has been over a foot higher recently.

Even in Winter there is still beauty to be found if you look for it.

Down around the big garden I found a new patch of mushrooms that has popped up since my last trip down there.

They had very interesting thick caps that folded upward like an inside-out umbrella as they aged. Their stems also had a pretty texture that resembled a tree trunk. A nice find on Christmas Eve.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Solstice

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,

And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,

As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Snowfall

Last night at about 12:30 AM, it started snowing. By the time I got up at 6:30 AM we had over an inch and it was still snowing hard. We ended up with just over 2" of the white stuff. While we may have missed a White Christmas by one week, it was still pretty exciting. There was beauty to be found wherever you looked. A landscape transformed.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

First Frost

We finally have had our first official frost. Eugene's temperature hit 32 degrees overnight and I am sure that we were a degree or two lower up here. All three of the birdbaths were frozen solid and there was a pretty hoar frost on all of the plant foliage. This is a full two months later than last year. It seems very typical that we either receive our killing frost during early October or then it doesn't happen until December.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hellebore Maintenance

Well, it's just over two weeks until Christmas and I should be doing "Christmas" stuff! However, the outdoors was calling me today. It was mild outside with no wind and no rain and I just couldn't stand to be indoors. I decided to tackle the front flower bed outside the dining room window. Hundreds of tiny green weeds had already germinated here and all of the leaves from the japanese maple were still littered on the ground. I also noticed that many of the bulbs had already begun to come up and the hellebore had already started producing this year's bloom stalks. It was time to get busy!

I worked for about an hour and a half. I got all of the maple leaves cleaned up and about half of the bed weeded. I cut off all of last years hellebore leaves. As you can see, this plant is already blooming. The majority, however, are just starting to grow. I also spent a bit of time in the western front flower bed. I weeded it and did a bit of generally clean-up. The "Jet Fire" daffodils have pushed up. It looks like those bulbs will  produce in abundance again this year.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

More New Discoveries

Walking out and about today, I made two new discoveries! My first discovery was in the raised garlic bed located in the western flowerbed. The twenty "Tzan" garlic cloves that I planted have started to come up. They are slower to germinate than the other two garlic varieties that I planted. I think that this is due in part to the location of this garlic bed. It only receives a few hours of direct sunlight right now so I think it's average temperature is much cooler than that of the other garlic bed. Hopefully this won't have a negative long-term effect on the "Tzan" garlic bulb growth.

Further along in this same flower bed I discovered that my "Sabrosa" jonquilla daffodil had also appeared. And even more exciting it looks like it has naturalized. Last year I had only one bulb to plant but it appears like there is more than one bulb coming up this year. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Excitement in the Garlic Bed

We recently had a big rain storm move through the area. It was accompanied by some very high winds. As I was walking around the house today, I noticed that the remay fabric had blown off most of the metal hoops over the garlic bed. As I set in to adjust the fabric back over the hoops some green caught my eye - the garlic is up!

The "Russian Red" that I bought in Maine has really sprouted. It is 3-4 inches tall already. I think it has really liked out mild Winter weather in Oregon and thinks it might be Spring already! The shoots all look healthy and strong.

I was especially thrilled to see that the "Chesnook Red" garlic has also started to come up.The cloves were a little bit dehydrated when I planted them so I was unsure of their viability. Of the 10 cloves that I planted, 9 have sprouted. Most have just broken through the soil, so there is still hope that number 10 will come up too. Things are looking good!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dahlia Digging & Storage - Finished!

This is the day I have been waiting for- I am finished with my dahlia tubers for the year! Back on October 29th I cut down the first four rows of dahlia plants. Then on November 4th I dug those first four rows. Since then, I have been "working" on dahlias after work and on weekends almost every day straight. Today the last dahlia tubers were fully dry. I wrapped them by variety in saran wrap and then carefully labeled them. The last tuber bundles almost completely filled storage box number 4! As far back as I can remember, I haven't ever saved this many tubers. Last year it was 2 1/2 boxes worth.

Looking at my notes, this year I divided about 230 clumps. Two plants showed signs of virus and I tossed those tubers over the back fence. I also lost 4-6 clumps due to rot. After dividing those 230 clumps, I washed, bleached, dried, wrapped, and labeled 922 total individual tubers. Of those 922 tubers, I ascertained that 761 definitely had a live eye. The others I wasn't sure about, but saved them to check on in the Spring. Not a bad one month's work!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Big Garden Put to Bed

The above picture doesn't look like much but to this gardener it is a beautiful site! Today I finished digging up the last of my 238 dahlia clumps and it wasn't a day too soon. We have had multiple storms come through this month. Many of them have originated from the southern tropics and have dumped 2" plus of rain as they passed through the area. As each storm rolled by I could literally watch the water table rise in the garden. As you can see in the bottom of the picture, the soil is saturated and the water is starting to puddle and stand. I am really fortunate that I only lost two tuber clumps to rotting this year. I think that might be a record. Now it's almost December. Time to let the garden and the gardener rest for the Winter.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

The year has turned its circle,
The seasons come and go.
The harvest is all gathered in
And chilly north winds blow.

Orchards have shared their treasures,
The fields, their yellow grain,
So open wide the doorway-
Thanksgiving comes again!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Early Bulb Action

I took a walk around the house today looking in all of the flowerbeds.When I arrived at the west end of the house, I was shocked to find that two "Spring" bulbs have already pushed up. This last January 8th, I finally planted 3 specialty bulbs that I had purchased from Cherry Creek Daffodils at the Oct. 2011 Hardy Plant meeting. The "Kokopelli" & "Sabrosa" jonquilla daffs bloomed in late April and the "Rolf Fiedler" star flower bloomed June 13th. Now that they are happily planted I assumed that they would bloom a bit earlier in 2013..but I didn't expect them to be up this early! I am happy to see that all 4 of the "Rolf Fiedler" bulbs are up. Three of the plants look really strong. This last Spring only two of the bulbs bloomed, so I am hoping that all four will send up a bloom stem this coming Spring.

As you can see in the picture below, the "Kokopeli" daffodils are also really doing well. I planted 6 bulbs this last January and it looks like they are already beginning to naturalize. At this point I am only waiting for the one "Sabrosa" daffodil bulb planted in this flowerbed to sprout. Hopefully it is just naturally a bit later than these other two.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Digging Tubers & Record Warmth

Today I started the annual project of digging all of my dahlia tubers. The past few years I have made it a goal to dig, divide, wash and store three rows a week. This year however, I planted a record - for me - 17 rows of dahlias. If I only dig three rows a week, I will still be working on this project in December. So, to speed things up and keep me on-track to hit my Thanksgiving weekend "finish" goal, I decided that I need to dig four rows a week this year. I started at the end of the garden that I had planted first. I had already chopped down those dahlia plants last week so they were ready to go. The strange thing today was, that for the first time that I can ever remember, I was actually sweating digging up the dahlias. I was in jeans and a short sleeve shirt and really wished that I had worn shorts. After I finished digging all 55 clumps, I headed back to the house. That's when I found out that it was a record 73 degrees outside. No wonder I was so warm! I can honestly say that I haven't ever dug dahlias in 70 degree weather before. It sure beats the cold and rain.

After I returned back up to the house with all of the freshly dug clumps, I walked over to the front flowerbed. I then dug my one clump of "Weston Spanish Dancer". I originally planted that dahlia when I had one leftover tuber back in May, when I was potting up my tubers for the big garden. I couldn't bear to throw it out, so I quickly popped it into the front flowerbed. It grew, and grew, and grew! I also had four "Weston Spanish Dancer" plants down in the big garden and they grew fine, but nothing like the tuber in the front flowerbed. I was really curious to compare the tuber size between the two different planting locations. Voila! As you can see in the above picture, the dahlia in the front flowerbed produced a tuber clump three times the size of the clumps that were produced down in the big garden. And look at the size of that stalk! It looks like bamboo! I attribute the size difference to the Nature's Best soil mix that fills the front flowerbed. As you can tell, plants love it and thrive on it.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Garlic Planting

After spending last weekend getting the kitchen garden cleaned up and ready for Winter, I was finally ready to get the garlic planted today. Last year I planted on October 10th, so I am a few weeks later this year. Fortunately, garlic is very flexible and forgiving. If you plant anytime in October to mid-November, your crop should be just fine. I planted three varieties today. The first variety, pictured above is, "Russian Red". I purchased two bulbs at the Fedco Booth at the Common Ground Fair in Maine. It survived the trip home just fine and has been chilling in the refrigerator ever since. This is how Fedco describes this variety in their catalog:

Russian Red Garlic Organic - Named for its mottled burgundy skin, said to have been brought to the Pacific Northwest by Russian immigrants in the early 1900s. Forms a ring of 5-8 large plump cloves around a central stalk. Keeps well for over six months. 50-60 cloves/lb. MOFGA-certified. Maine Grown. Hardneck.

The Fedco catalog lists ""Russian Red" as a Rocambole-type, hard-neck garlic. It should produce 6-12 large tan, brown, or reddish cloves which are easily peeled. It has a slightly shorter shelf life due to loosely attached skins. It will store until February and, if cured well, can store months longer. The scapes will form tight coils. I noticed, as I broke the bulb into individual cloves, how big the cloves were.

The second variety that I planted was "Chesnook Red". I grew this variety for the first time last year. I saved the biggest bulb that I harvested this past July, and I am using those cloves as my planting stock.

Chesnook Red  Organic - Large bulbs with purple stripes, hard tight heads, and easy to peal cloves. An excellent garlic for baking with a nice creamy texture. Pleasant medium pungency, long lasting flavor. Late Season. Hardneck.

I built a long raised bed for the cloves. I added a tablespoon or so of bone meal to the bottom of each hole before I placed the clove. Since our Winter weather is generally mild, I only needed to plant the cloves 1 inch deep, pointed end facing up. I planted 10 cloves of "Chesnook Red" and 15 cloves of  "Russian Red".

Here's the finished bed with all of the cloves settled in for Winter.

When I was done I then covered the whole bed with hoops and a blanket of Remay. I have learned from experience that in the Spring, when the garlic first send up its delicate green shoots, that the finches can not resist pulling on the shoots. The last thing I want to find is a my whole garlic crop lying on top of the soil one morning. I will leave this protective tunnel on until the plants are 2-3 inches high and then it will be safe to remove it.

Once I finished that raised bed, I needed to move to a new space to plant my last variety. As I walked around the house I found this little guy basking in the sunshine. My sister had seen him previously and thinks that it is a young gopher snake. Some great organic pest control!

My final variety that I planted this year was "Tzan". My mom picked up three large bulbs of this variety while on a trip to a nursery on Bainbridge Island, WA. Like "Russian Red" it has extremely large, fat cloves.

Tzan (Turban artichoke hardneck variety)- It is said to be a really hot Turban from Shandong Province that was collected by J. Swenson. Fat, round, easy to peel cloves with beautiful tannish skin that has purple stripes makes it easy on the eyes as well. Averages about 7 cloves per bulb.

I wasn't at all familiar with the term Turban garlic. After some poking around the Internet I found this useful description:

Turbans usually have 5-7 very large fat cloves that form something of a circle around a center that may or may not have a scape. There are few or no tiny interior cloves. Turban garlic's bulb wrappers are usually very colorful with lots of purple splotches and stripes. Some cultivars are very white but vividly striped with red/purple vertical lines. Most of the Turbans I have grown have had stalks (called scapes) that form an upside-down U before straightening up. All cultivars of a given variety of garlic generally have the same scape pattern before they straighten up; all Rocambole scapes form a double loop while Purple Stripe garlics form 3/4 of a loop. Asiatics have a smaller seedhead (properly called an umbel) while Turbans have a larger umbel that resembles a turban. The umbel is covered with a membrane called a spathe and the pointed end of the spathe is called a beak. Turban garlics usually have a beak in the range of 6 to 9 inches or so and have the second-longest beaks of all garlic varieties. Not all have scapes but most usually do. Turbans have 30 to 100 small rice-size bulbils in their bulbil capsule. Some cultivars are instantly hot to the taste while others may be remarkably mild for up to half a minute before you get a very hot taste that spreads from the back of the mouth forward. They can be very pungent and have a musky aftertaste. Not all Turbans are hot although some are but there are also some rich garlicky ones that don't overpower with pungency. - From The Gourmet Garlic Gardens web-site

Well, that explains why the cloves were so fat- they are suppose to be that way!

I built a large, rectangular raised bed against the west end of the house. I was able to fit in 20 "Tzan" cloves. I have them safely planted now and only need to buy a few more metal hoops so that I can get the bed covered in remay for the Winter. Finally, the garlic is planted!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Giants in the Mudroom Flowerbed

Last April 29th, I tackled a big project in the mudroom flowerbed. I lifted out most of the plants and added a great deal of new soil to the bed. Once I got it evenly filled and leveled, I organized and replanted the bed. Then I gave a strong "haircut" to the few perennials that I didn't move.

I am pleased to report that everything survived the upheaval and most of the plants have thrived in their new location. They all appreciated a little more elbow room too. In particular, two plants have really gone crazy with their growth this Summer.

If you look at the first picture, you can make out two little plants of Salvia Guaranitica "Black & Blue". For the first time in many years, we had two plants over-winter. They were both small, 2-3 inches in height. I dug them up and re-planted them near each other. Now, six moths later, the plants have grown together and created one enormous salvia. It is over four feet high and has been covered in beautiful blooms all Summer. We haven't ever grown a Black & Blue Salvia of this size before.

The long, tubular flowers have been a hummingbird favorite. Their blue color is such a pretty contrast to the lime green coloring of the leaves.

The other "giant" in the mudroom bed this year is the Salvia Microphylla 'La Trinidad Pink" . It was a really big, happy plant last year too. I gave the plant a major, hard trimming this Spring and was a bit worried that I might have cut it back too much. I shouldn't have been concerned! As it has every year, it grew like crazy and has taken over a lot of real estate. It is another favorite of the hummingbirds who love its hot pink flowers. It has been blooming constantly since July and will continue until we receive a hard frost.