Larch, faux evergreen

November 2nd, 2010

2009 Larch

Though larch or larix laricina appear to be evergreen, they aren’t. Never mistake the yellowing and loss of needles in late autumn as the death of this specimen. Sure enough, come spring, new tufts of kitten-soft needles will spring forth, ringing the wispy branches.

I planted mine last year and it seem to have doubled in size – then again so has my 4-year-old son Quade. But the 2009 picture (kicking myself for not having one after planting) doesn’t lie, the tree grew leaps and bounds. I paid minimum attention to it this year, don’t think I even watered it but the mild summer helped with that. Nothing like giving a new tree a year of mild weather to help it along. Now its needles have turned yellow but haven’t shed yet. Can’t wait to see how well it does next year.

2010 Larch in autumn

Of course you can see my posts are becoming more sparse – the inevitable for gardening at this time of year. But I’ll chime in here and there throughout fall and winter. I’ve got a few projects I’d like to do – windowsill herbs, forced bulbs, a terrarium and perhaps some posts on houseplants.

Hazel the Witch

October 19th, 2010

Yellow-flowered witch hazel

I made a note to double check my modest little witch hazel. They bloom about this time and I hadn’t crouched down to double check that it was indeed blooming – sure enough. Quarter-sized yellow spidery flowers had opened up right off the older parts of branches.

It’s quite wonderful that a shrub of this name blooms around Halloween in our neck of the plains. Probably the latest blooming shrub/tree there is in these parts. If I still had my toad lilies, those would also be blooming about now.

Witch hazel is either a big shrub or small tree – 10 feet in height. I planted mine on the west side of our house amongst iris, poppy, daylilies, coral bells and columbines. It gets the hotter sun of the day. Though it prefers more acidic moist soil, it is somewhat tolerant of other types. I’ve added compost, manure and leaves to the surrounding soil. I plan on using some extra straw around it as well for a little insulation. This is its third year – it’s scruffy looking with its highly textured leaves, gnarled branches and rough dead-gray bark. But I like the interest it gives this time of year – just hope it grows up a ways so I don’t have to crouch and dig for its interest.

Mums the word

October 18th, 2010

There are a few last spots of color to greet the cooling air and longer nights. Mums and asters continue their show with a rainbow of colors. Asters tend to come in cooler colors – purples, blues and pinks. Mums pick up the warmer spectrum – orange, burgundy, yellow, red and white. I have a purple aster and a burgundy mum.

My aster has gotten a disease I’m afraid, the leaves are turning yellow and rusty with some black spots and the flowers are mangled looking. I believe it is either a rust or fungus of sorts. A quick Googling of this has made me decide it is not “aster yellows” which tends to change the color of the flowers and can affect more than just asters, like coneflowers. I’ll have to watch it and make a point to check margins, veining and where on the plant it stops or starts.

My mum is has pretty blooms on top but is quite scraggly toward the bottom. To keep perennial mugs in better shape I should have cut them back mid-summer. This causes the plant to keep a more compact and less floppy shape. Of course I’m on the shoulda-coulda-woulda side of things so I’ll make a note for next year. For now, I’ll just cut a few for a cute arrangement on my desk.

Autumnal snippets

October 15th, 2010

What are you doing this weekend? Besides hunting.

Me, well

  • Raking – I do it more for fun and exercise – we like to fill a couple Halloween leaf bags for decoration. We still don’t have any trees more than 7 years old so we don’t get a lot for leaves except what blows over from the neighbors or the park across the street. But I am surprised to see that the meager amount has increased a bit – a sure sign our trees are growing up!
  • Starting to put away tools – clean off dirt, drag them through the oil and sand bucket to keep rust away.
  • Cleaning up leftover garden debris – cleanliness keeps disease away from next years plants. Rake it up and dispose of it – especially if you had any problems this year with mildews, blights, rusts or bacteria. Don’t put these back in your compost.
  • After the garden plot is cleaned up – turn the soil. Autumn is one of the best times to turn the soil – come spring, after snow and ice have packed it down a bit – it will still be easier to work with than if you didn’t. Add leaves while turning to lighten up your soil – great addition for heavy clay like we have around here.
  • Getting out for a walk. Listening to the crunch of leaves and the fleets of birds heading south and enjoy these ridiculously beautiful days that we’ve been having – they won’t last forever.

Bale out

October 11th, 2010

Having forgone lawn treatments this year and needing some major weed control I’d been wanting to get some straw bales. So far this seemed one of the best options. We’ve had a host of issues with other cheap, reuse/recycle strategies:

  • Newsprint – trying to lay this down in normal S.D. weather means the neighbors get a free subscription. If you don’t wet it or lay stones on it immediately the wind sweeps it right away.
  • Cardboard – have to dissect a cardboard box from tape, labels and then over lap them is difficult. Also difficult is cutting through them when you want to plant and forget trying to do a seed bed and use them for weed barrier. There is one place they work fairly well and that’s on paths. They are usually the right width and heavier than newsprint so they don’t readily blow away.
  • Grass clippings – these work pretty well but can mat-down so solidly that water simply runs off them. If you use any time of weed killer or fertilizer these can affect the plants you lay your clippings on. Fresh clippings can suck up the nitrogen from the ground as they break down. Depending on the time of year and how often you mow you might also end up with lots of weed seeds you are now sowing into your veggie or flower bed. Use them in your compost – with turning and proper heat it should kill most weed seeds and break the clippings down so they can release their nutrients.
  • Leaves – I do love leaves for amending soil but they aren’t good mulch – they work much better if dug into soil to lighten it up. If left on top they generally blow away. I have taken a bag of leaves (usually decorative pumpkin one) and after the holiday I’ve placed them directly on top of less-hardy plants to over winter them. Works wonders. Come spring just empty the bag into your compost or (for shame) haul away.
  • Hay – has a wealth of seeds and you’ll end up introducing very invasive, native pasture weeds. I used one bale and now have a bad problem with the sticky grass tails that embed themselves so badly in certain materials that I’ve had to throw clothes away.

For some reason straw (dried plant stalks) doesn’t have the problem hay does. A bale tends to break easily into 3-4″ layers that mostly stay put with a breeze (do not fluff it, leave it in its self-made layers when you lay it down) the weight and tightness help it stay put. It lets moisture in readily but impedes the evaporation process from heat and wind. It also keeps soil temps more moderate.It doesn’t look bad like newsprint and scruffy cardboard – if you want to get crazy (ha!) throw the straw over the newsprint our cardboard for extra weed protection. Our initial use will be to mulch the garlic The Hub put in, we should have a bumper crop next year.

We picked up 4 bales at the local farm/supply store and they were a mere $3.99 a bale and they were loaded for us.


October 7th, 2010

I threw a smaller pie pumpkin in the oven today to cook up some quick baby food and lunch for myself and the youngest two kiddos. 350F for 40 minutes cooked it through, the size was about 1/2 a basketball or 2 softballs (see picture).

This was a typical pie pumpkin,  small in size, big sweet flavor (I’m trying to find the name but all the seeds I’d ordered don’t match this so it could very well be a volunteer). The flesh of this one is a bit stringier than the Rouge Vif d’Etampes which is pretty smooth. The soft-orange colored rind is a bit textured but the shape is perfect pumpkin – they could double as small jack-o-lanterns but I wouldn’t want to waste the flesh. The seeds look perfect for roasting, I rinsed them and set them aside in a colander to dry – that’ll be a project for later.

After cooking up the pie pumpkin I tried mashing it with a bit of milk and rice cereal for the babe but it just didn’t break down enough. She’s just starting foods so it needed to be smooth. I threw it in the blender and realized the amount I had didn’t even come over the blades, so I added just enough to blend thinking I’d have some extra. Not so – the babe ate the whole thing and cried when it was gone. That is one wail of a recommendation!

Welcome favorite month

October 1st, 2010

October is my favorite month of the year. I love Halloween, the colors, the crisp and crunch of the air and leaves, the slow down before the holiday season, no snow, no mosquitoes, school routine is now that and an anniversary as well.

This has been a pretty good fall. The temps fluctuate from 70s during the day to 40/50s at night. This back and forth over a few weeks combined with the shorter days is what spurs the trees to change their colors. On the years when temp change is gradual we get the best colors and on the years where it cuts from 80 to freezing the leaves simply go brown and shed.  I’m sad thinking that this will be a an October that we won’t get to Sica Hollow for our near-annual trek around the scenic and mythic park. We will have to make do with the colors in our much closer parks. Ms. Nova has no problem with that.

Tomorrow might bring the lightest of frosts to our area. Predictions say just above freezing. How hard a frost is and what damage it will do only not only depends on the temperature but how long it stays at them. A quick dip to 30 might not be as detrimental, or finalizing as a long linger at 32. If you have anything you want to keeps going, it’s best to cover it with a bucket or sheet or plastic during the coldest hours.


September 29th, 2010

I should probably tell you to gather your herbs before the nights get too close to frost. Many herbs are native to a mediteranean (temperate) climate. They can’t take much cold and wilt at the first sign of crispness. One way I could stretch my herb harvest is to bring the pots I have herbs planted in inside at night, but I’m (once again) too lazy and my pot is large. I’ll have to harvest what I have.

I’ve already taken a few handfuls of oregano in to dry. I set the pile on a plate in the dark cupboard and left it there for a couple days til it was crispy the pulled off the tough stems from the crumbly leaves, poured what was left on a piece of paper and used that as a funnel to put in a recycled glass spice jar. My favorite spices are the Wild Organic – not just because they are good spices (great ground pepper) but because the glass jars are great to reuse. Unlike plastic spice jars, glass ones don’t absorb odors that can taint new spices.

I’ve also been meaning to get some pesto made – I have all the ingredients, just haven’t gotten it done. My basic is: basil, garlic, salt, walnuts (cheaper than pine nuts), lemon, olive oil. Put in a food processor or good blender til pulpy or finer then place in ice  cube trays to freeze portions. Later, when using it you can add the parmesan, the pesto keeps longer if you don’t have cheese in the mix. This type of process can be used for fresh-tasting herbs. You can even suspend fresh herbs in water and freeze in trays for use in soups and sauces too.

Also good – collect mint, lemon balm for teas (thanks LadyBug!).

Garrrrrlic! and autumn ramblings

September 24th, 2010

Sorry folks – too much work and none of it in the garden as of late. But, BUT, The Hub got his first garlic bulbs in – I told him we still had some ordered bulbs on the way but he was determined to plant some by the light of the Harvest Moon. We saved one good bulb of cloves from this last meager harvest so that’s what he stuck in the garden. This is possibly based on some principles from the idea of biodynamic gardening. But that’s another post at another time.

The garlic we ordered came in today – both varieties are hardneck. My mother gave me, basically, one tip: follow the directions. This calls for high nitrogen fertilizer (think lawn feed) and bonemeal (phosphorus) to be added at planting time. A good amount of hummus and fluffy, compost rich soil doesn’t hurt. So I’ll need to pick some of that up tomorrow in hopes I, or The Hub, can finish this last bit of fall planting. The Hub also plans on taking down the garden this weekend but I’m skeptical, we’ll see. It’s time to get the last hopeful tomatoes off the vines and cook up or store what pumpkins are left and gather those last few seeds to seed the dreams of next spring

Fall/spring bulb basics

September 20th, 2010

I’m confused, should bulbs planted in the fall be referred to as “fall bulbs” because of when they are planted or “spring bulbs” because of when they bloom?

Regardless, I just planted mine to welcome the start of autumn on Wednesday. This year I decided to put in a few crocus. These and snowdrops tend to be the earliest bloomers. I love my mother’s sunshiny yellow ones that are the first to greet the warming rays of early spring. I picked up a cheap-O bag of 30 and popped them along the very front of my south and west facing beds along the house. Regardless of what type of fall-planted bulb you choose, there are basic tips for each.

  • Plant them at a depth of 2-3 times their height. In spots that stay bare or get really cold, deeper is better.
  • Plant them with the pointed in facing up and the button (roots) end facing down.
  • For a natural look dig a wide whole and plant several a few inches apart depending on size
  • For a pop of color in the lawn, lift a small chunk of sod, plant bulb and replace sod – use very early bloomers so by the time that first lawn mowing comes around the blooms will be spent and leafs starting to wither
  • Plant alongside later risers – plants that don’t get going until full summer – that way these plants will cover the withering, brown leaves of the spent, spring-blooming plants
  • If your spring-bloomers aren’t as prolific as they once were it usually means they need to be divided. Just dig and space out now and/or share extras with friends
  • There are bulb cages you can get if you have a frisky squirrel or other bulb-munching rodent around