Didn’t Feel Like Goin to Lowe’s

Gardening, Outdoor Adventure, plants
9’x5’ double cedar log raised bed

I feel like lumber is way overpriced and I hear there are shortages too. I’m not against big box stores, but I’ll avoid them if I can. Either way, I just didn’t feel like driving to Lowe’s or Home Depot. The woods behind our house seem to be nearing the end of the “Stem Exclusion” stage of forest succession. In this stage, resources, such as sunlight, become limited for certain tree species like Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which were some of the first tree species to appear in the early stages of forest succession.

Most of the Red Cedar in these woods are now dead because they were shaded out by larger tree species like Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) and Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). Some of the Cedar-skeletons are still standing; others have been blown over by wind. I have mixed feelings about harvesting the cedar trunks from these woods. On one hand they make a nice natural looking raised bed that will help feed our family. On the other hand, I am removing material from these woods that is essential to the detritus food web, even if just several pieces.

January Greens in Zone 6a

Gardening
Greens from the (unheated) greenhouse

During winter in New York State, I start dreaming of fresh greenery as early as December. Going up to the greenhouse in winter feels like an escape to a tiny island of verdure. A mini vacation to someplace different. But not all plants can survive winter in Zone 6a in an unheated greenhouse. However, varieties of kale, such as “Winterbor”, Swiss Chard (“Rainbow”), Tatsoi, and many other “cold hardy” greens can easily overwinter in an unheated greenhouse, or even outside if the winter is mild.

The harvest shown in the photo was originally planted in August and September. The plants don’t grow much during the “dark months” (Nov, Dec, Jan), but come February and March; they can really take off and start to grow rapidly, thanks to greater amount of sun available at that time. It will be fun to experiment with sowing new seeds in February, in the greenhouse, and leaving some of last year’s plants.

Winter Gardening

Gardening, plants

Usually, early January is when I get the impulse to start growing things. How do you decide what to grow? For some it might be the exclusivity of growing something rare. For others, it might be the dream of self-reliance by growing most of what they eat. Or, it may simply be the challenge of getting things to germinate that do not germinate easily. For me, it is whatever has caught my attention this time, but usually there is influence from the realm of “grow it to eat it” or “grow it for the native ecosystem”.

And, occasionally I get distracted by shiny things like a cat after an orb of light reflecting from a piece of glass. For instance, I recently sowed the all too common Nasturtium because, well, they’re pretty. But subconsciously, I may have decided to sow them because they “grow before your eyes”. What else would be as fun to watch unfurl in green splendor in the middle of winter? The best part is that when the round peppery leaves start to stretch out of control, I get a snack. You might think that there are better things to munch on, but I have seen this plant used in “serious” restaurants as both garnish and salad ingredient.

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This year, the “grow it to eat it” influence seems to be at the forefront of my plant obsessed brain. After I completed the greenhouse in November, I got to work on planning a vegetable garden. Throughout the winter, I have been driving T-posts in and building raised beds (and a garden gate made from PVC pipe). But that wasn’t enough, so I grew sprouts in a mason jar and microgreens under LED lights. Both the sprouts and microgreens were a success, despite some aphids that showed up unannounced. Later, I found a ladybug in my daughter’s room and then I unleased it on the aphids, which seems to have declined in numbers drastically since then.

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Recently, I had a bout of the “grow it for the native ecosystem” syndrome. I raided the fridge for any remaining native plant seeds. I was determined to sow any 3-year old seed reserves because some species may no longer be viable after a few years. I grabbed Paw Paw (Asimina triloba), Gray Birch (Betula populifolia), Striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), Red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens), and Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). I sowed these seeds in plastic trays inside the greenhouse under another mini-greenhouse to experiment with giving the plants a jump start on the season. When it warms up enough I will move the tray out into the main greenhouse.

What will I do with these plants? Care for them for a little while, plant some where I can, and hopefully give most away to friends and family. The recipients of these plants might be curious about them because these species aren’t typically sold in commercial nurseries, though species like Paw Paw are quickly gaining popularity. The plight of the honey bee and the monarch butterfly seems to have been heard loud and clear. Maybe most are ready to hear about what it means to garden with native plants.