Snapshots: Spring Bulbs

IMG_0541Small signs of hope springing up everywhere

By Michael Leach

Spring aims tiny green spears in its fight against winter.

Seemingly insignificant, the pointy shoots of snowdrops, crocus, daffodils, iris and other early bloomers take aim at winter’s soft underbelly. Sooner or later (probably later given the ice cover on the Great Lakes this year), winter will slowly collapse like a malevolent balloon, float to the ground and dissipate with the last frost.

Long before that, tiny, triumphant banners of lavender, pink, yellow, red, purple and white will wave in afternoons that grow ever warmer and twilights that linger ever longer.

Many Midwest gardens remain snow covered or ice crusted as this longest and coldest winter in ages sneers in contempt at the first warming breath of southern winds.

Don’t despair.

Nature’s pulse quickens. Shoots are drawn irresistibly to the sun. Despite the snow and the cold — blossoms will open, lawns turn green and feet run shoeless once again.

Happy Spring!

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Spring Countdown: 1 day

Leach garden (22)How to grow a winter garden without raising the heating bill

By Michael Leach

Wearin’ o’ the green is one thing. I prefer eating greens, especially those fresh from the garden. With floating row cover, and a bit of Irish luck, this is doable on St. Patrick’s Day and weeks before — even in the Midwest.

By chance I discovered floating row cover does more than keep cabbage butterflies away from the kale, collards, turnips and other cold tolerant greens. I plant these in late summer for a fall, winter and spring harvest. This lightweight agricultural fabric helps the plants resist winter weather, apparently by offering some wind protection. Even without row covers, kale and collards have grown well into December in some years.

While Debra was gathering rosemary during our spate of Zone 7 winters in our Zone 6 world, I harvested small amounts of greens almost weekly. Dim winter days slowed production to mere bragging rights over a few leaves in darkest December and January.

But by the end of February, the combination of warmer readings and longer days triggered new leaves and harvests two or three times a week.

This year things are different, due to one of the coldest winters in a generation. The lush, venerable greens, planted last spring, died despite the row cover. A cursory check shows little hope of new life arising from the roots.

The younger plants of late summer provided the season’s  first small harvest of greens — just in time for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. That’s no Blarney. Seasoned with a bit of butter, sea salt, pepper and bragging rights they were awesome.

(For inspiration on growing your own winter garden, check out Eliot Coleman’s books based on his experience of year-round vegetable gardening in Maine without  heated greenhouses. Visit his website.)

Spring Countdown: 2 days

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Debra Knapke

In keeping with the green-theme here is another set of books to consider.  From bottom to top:

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening – I still have the original The Basic Book of Organic Gardening edited by Robert Rodale – a dense paperback that was published in 1971 and purchased by me in 1989 for $3.95.  The pictured book was published in 2002 and has much of the same down-to-Earth information, but with lots of pictures.  We like pictures…

The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Farming – This is a book that has become one of the bibles of the sustainable food movement.  Parts are poetic; other parts are packed with process-thinking and science.  If you are considering growing your own food organically, this book will give you a path to follow.

No Nonsense Vegetable Gardening – now for something on the quirky, but very fun, end of the spectrum… Donna Balzer and Steven Biggs travel through the issues of vegetable gardening with humor.  Not everything is cut-and-dry and gardening is not rocket science.

The Green Gardener’s Guide: Simple, Significant Actions to Protect & Preserve Our Planet – Joe Lamp’l offers quick, yet informative, lessons on how to garden and how to work with nature.  He stresses that you don’t have to do it all at once, just take one step at a time.  Most topics are 2-3 pages long.

Green Guides Crops in Pots: Growing Vegetables, Fruit & Herbs in Pots, Containers & Baskets – For those of you who do not have the acreage for an in-the-ground garden but want to garden, here’s your book.  The tips are very helpful and the sound-byte facts are thought-provoking; for example, “Did you Know? North America produces nearly 90 percent of the world’s blueberries.”

Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for Your Home and Garden – I do have to take a stand with the word “new”, but the time-honored information is presented in a very attractive and easy to understand format.  If you follow the recommendations, you will be saving energy, money and be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

And lastly, Green, Greener, Greenest: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-Smart Choices a Part of Your Life – This book goes beyond the garden, proposing options that are at different levels of action; your choice.  As I tell my students, there isn’t always a best option, sometimes it boils down to: what is the least-worst?

 

Spring Countdown: 3 days

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Debra Knapke

Books are a pleasure for me; second to gardening with respect to de-stressing.  There is something very comforting and settling about holding a book while drinking tea – or sipping wine.  I love my IPad mini, but it doesn’t hold a candle to an engaging book or magazine.

In honor of St Patrick’s Day, I offer green: in color and in lifestyle choice cookbooks.  From top to bottom:

Garlic, Wine and Olive Oil – a bit about the history and use of three essentials to cooking. I love cooking with wine and sometimes even use it in the dish (paraphrased from a quote often attributed to the incomparable Julia Child).

Moosewood Daily Special – our go-to book for soup – cold and hot – and salad ideas.  For those of you who are flexitarians, there are recipes that include fish and seafood.  And, once you know a recipe, you can figure out how to add meat if you so desire.

Small Breads – here is a sampling of bread recipes from around the world collected by Bernard Clayton.  It is a subset of his larger book Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads.

The Fig’s Table – one of many cookbooks that have grown out of famous restaurants.  If you like Italian – pizza, risotto, pasta, prosciutto, and more – and you like traditional-eclectic, give this cookbook a try.

Foraged Flavor – this weed, uh, plant, is really edible, and how do I use it?  That’s the niche that Foraged Flavor fills.  This year I will create the Purslane Eggplant Caponata.

The Conscious Cook – vegan recipes that do not leave you yearning for meat, and the inspiration for my use of cashew cream instead of dairy cream.  This cookbook was a gift and one that keeps on giving (thank you, Denise).

And, lastly, Clean Food: a Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source – another meatless cookbook that looks at a sustainable way of eating; for ourselves and for the world.

Spring Countdown: 4 days

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Debra Knapke

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here is a recipe that I’ve made many times.  This is comfort food!

Creamy Potato Cabbage Soup

From Moosewood Daily Special with a few changes…

2 TBL      olive oil

2 c.         chopped onions*

1 tsp      ground caraway seeds (fennel is another option)

½ tsp     salt

4-5 c.     coarsely chopped green cabbage

2 c.         sliced potatoes

3 c.         water or vegetable stock

2 tsp      dried dill**

4 oz.       chevre

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onions, caraway and half the salt until the onions are translucent; about 7-10 minutes. Add the cabbage and remaining salt and cook until the cabbage is beginning to wilt.  Add the potatoes and water and bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are tender. Turn off the heat.  Add the dill and chevre, and stir to combine.  Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.  Simmer the soup if it has cooled too much, add salt and pepper to taste and add water if the blended soup is too thick.

*   When in season, I use leeks instead.

** If you have fresh dill, use at least 2 tablespoons; other herbs to use: thyme or sage; both are especially tasty with fennel instead of caraway.

Spring Countdown: 5 days

By Teresa Woodard

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, I couldn’t think of a better spring green plant to pay tribute to this Irish holiday.  Mosses are now greening up creek banks, rocks, tree trunks and other shady native habitats.  In the landscape, moss is also moss containergaining interest as a no-mow lawn alternative, a lush addition to container planters and an attractive accent to shade gardens.

To learn more about moss gardening, check out the Ohio Moss and Lichen Association website including a “Bryology 101” and a listing of species counts by county.  Also, Joe Lamp’l shares ideas for growing moss in the landscape and container gardens in an all-moss segment on Growing a Greener World.

Here are two online sources for purchasing moss:  Moss Acres and Moss and Stone Gardens.  Remember when harvesting moss, avoid parks and ask for permission on private property.  Only take small amounts from a colony, so the plants can regenerate.

Spring Countdown: 6 days

IMG_0443By Michael Leach; photo by Abby Fullen

Choruses of bird songs, gentle breezes murmuring through bare branches, and the distant sounds of spring peepers are among my favorite sounds of the season of rebirth.

Just as evocative but barely louder than a whisper, is the sound of seeds rattling in a paper packet.

Seeds mean seedlings and this conjures visions of sun on the back, warm brown earth and dirt under the fingernails.

After gardening for more for than a half century,  the simple act of putting seeds in the soil and watching shoots emerge still excites me more than any other part of this always new business of working with plants.

Some people may yawn. Yet planting seeds unleashes the power of life in a humble row of turnips. The infinitely complex process of life unfolds as the sun warms the soil.

Seeds, seemingly dead things, open with delicate roots and tiny leaves. Eventually an eggplant or an oak tree arises. The astounding transformation is exceedingly commonplace — like the sun coming up — but it amazes me each time I see seedlings or the sun appear.

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Spring Countdown: 7 days

Experience the living "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" through Columbus's Topiary Park http://www.topiarygarden.org

Experience the living “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” within Downtown Columbus’s Georges Seurat- inspired Topiary Park 

By Michael Leach

“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” said American novelist Henry James.

Admittedly he probably was referring to an English summer afternoon, more like a late May afternoon in the Midwest. Yet in our region of often sultry summer afternoons, not to mention stifling dog days, summer afternoon still conjures a pleasantness unique to the season of school vacations, swimming pools and backyard barbecues.

Winter, on the other hand, offers little in the way of appealing — much less beautiful — word pairings. Does anyone ever want to read polar vortex again, much less survive it?

How about: mixed precipitation, freezing rain, ice storm, wind chill, snow emergency, road salt, snow shovel, ice scraper, record snowfall, record low, blizzard conditions, jackknifed semi, icy freeways, near whiteout or pot holes?

Some may cite “white Christmas” as beautiful winter words, but after this dreadful winter, is anyone dreaming of that yet?

Spring Countdown: 8 days

sticks

March: a wild corner of the yard; later to be covered with green. The grasses in the background will soon be cut down and added to the pile.

By Debra Knapke

one, two, buckle my shoe,

three, four shut the door

five, six, pickup sticks

seven, eight lay them straight

nine, ten, do it again!

This perfectly describes what I am doing in the yard right now.  Branches from two red oaks, sugar, silver and black maples, hackberries and a dawn redwood litter the front and back yard.  Even our stalwart ginkgo has lost branches this winter.  Wind and snow graced us this past winter, and there are many “hangers” in the trees and twigs on the ground.  It seems that there are more branches down this year than the “usual”.  Although, I’m beginning to wonder what “the usual” is anymore.

This bounty of branches goes into my wood compost pile or into a wild corner of our lot.  This is where Mother Nature can do what she wants.  Later in the season, Jerusalem artichoke will come up along with many plants some might call weeds: pokeberry (although, I only leave one or two; apologies to Mother Nature), thistles, dock, red clover, ironweed, goldenrod, cup plant and more.  I have not taken a picture of this area, because, well… it’s messy.

I also place the leaves of cut-down grasses here.  Need to do this soon.  These seemingly useless old leaves have been used by resident chickadees and wrens to build their nests.

Yesterday, as I wandered around the yard picking up sticks, I also catalogued the chores to come; can’t wait!

March:  the quiescent garden – plastic covered object is an Earth oven protected for the winter.

March: the quiescent garden – plastic covered object is an Earth oven protected for the winter.

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