Alyssum

by Sandy SwegelAlyssum

It’s time to give the last garden award of the year: Latest Bloomer of the Year. Late blooming flowers are important because they are the last nectar and pollen sources of the season for bees and other pollinators. Bees especially show up on sunny Fall days when the warmth prompts the bees to leave the hive but freezes have already killed off all the flowers except for a hardy few who have little warm micro-ecosystems.

It’s a tie this year. The day after Thanksgiving only two flowers were in bloom: Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima, the annual, and yellow perennial alyssum, Aurinia saxatilis.

Perennial alyssum is the Spring yellow cascading ground-cover known as “Basket of Gold“. It’s glory days are Spring, but it throws out tiny yellow flowers here and there most of the year. The cooler weather of Fall spurs on more flowers and the bees can see those bright yellow flowers from far away.

White or Sweet Allysum is the annual often found in planters mixed with geraniums. It is sturdy, blooms all season and has a very sweet smell. Bees love it all season long. It reseeded itself which is how it made itself at home between pavers on a stone patio. Adorable, hardy and bee food. What a flower!Alyssum

So, dear Alyssums, we salute you this year as latest bloomers. The bees appreciate your food and the humans love your beauty as winter gray takes over our once colorful gardens.Basket-of-gold AlyssumSweet Alyssum

 

 

Photo credits

http://typesofflower.com/alyssum-flower-beautiful-meaning-with-gently-care-flower/alyssum-flower-annual-or-perennial/
https://roundrockgarden.wordpress.com/tag/parsley/

 

Thanksgiving Kale

Three Ways to Enjoy Kale for ThanksgivingThanksgiving Kale

 

I got off easy this year in Thanksgiving tasks…I only have to bring a vegetable side dish.  All the traditional dishes were spoken for by the time I got to pick my contribution so as I looked out the window at the overgrown kale plants, it became obvious I should make a kale dish.  My own recipes for kale aren’t too exciting, so I asked the internet.  Here are some awesome possibilities for kale that I came up with.

 

 

The Washington Post set the tone for choosing a kale recipe.  They recommend an awesome “Slow Roasted Tuscan Kale” because “It doesn’t taste healthful, an important trait for those avoid anything virtuous during the holidays.” Ain’t that the truth!  Most people don’t wanted lightly sautéed kale for a holiday meal: they want rich and creamy comfort foods

Thanksgiving Kale

Taste Test Winner

Chef Suzanne Goin’s recipe is even vegan, but no one needs to know that. the long slow cooking makes it holiday yummy.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/a-simple-thanksgiving-side-dish-that-plays-well-with-others-kale-cooked-long-and-slow/2016/11/14/c3cea252-9bae-11e6-b3c9-f662adaa0048_story.html

 

Soufflé

Thanksgiving Kale

Portrait of Martha + Cheese Souffle 

The Today show was adventurous and made a video to make a kale soufflé.  If you’re going to do the work of a soufflé, I say go all the way and make Martha Stewart’s Kale and Cheese Soufflé . http://www.marthastewart.com/1136714/cheese-and-kale-souffle. It has a perfect holiday ratio of butter to kale.  One stick of butter per bunch of kale!

 

Healthy but Still Tasty

If you insist on your kale dish being healthy, I like the recipes that add in fruit and nuts.  Kale and cranberries and  toasted almonds sounds great to me. Skip the cheeses so the vegans can have something good to eat!  http://www.gimmesomeoven.com/kale-salad-warm-cranberry-vinaigrette-recipe/

Thanksgiving Kale

Photo credit http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/slow-cooked-tuscan-kale

 

Garlic: Last crop of the season.

by Sandy Swegel

It’s still un-sGarliceasonably warm in many parts of the country. Most but not all leaves have fallen. Tomatoes are miraculously still ripening…there won’t be many green tomatoes this year. But the easiest crop of all can be planted very quickly if you haven’t gotten it in the ground yet.

Garlic gets planted in the fall because it does best with a cooling period before growth. Garlic grows very easily and will grow even in poorer soil. But give it good garden soil and good moisture (winter rains and snow usually take care of the moisture) and you’ll have fabulous tasting fresh garlic all year…scapes in Spring and cloves in summer. It really does taste better than the traditional store-bought.

If your soil is fairly soft and porous, you can just poke your gloved finger down into the soil and drop a single clove in…pointy side up. My soil is tough so I carve a hole with my hori hori knife. You can leave the paper on the clove. Space the garlic about six inches apart. You can do rows or a grid. Press the dirt back on the hole. Mulch if you have some leaves or compost. Water if your soil is dry.

Garlic

Truthfully, planting garlic takes less time than chopping up garlic for dinner. The traditional time for planting garlic is October-November. Our local garlic market farmer says she’s been known to be in the fields Thanksgiving morning brushing away snow and pressing the cloves in. Just get it done. If you don’t have fancy planting cloves, just use some organic garlic from the grocery store this year.

Garlic

You can get fancier and fussier about planting garlic and amend the soil or pre-soak cloves or dig perfectly measured trenches. But I’m outta time and interest this year….thinking about Thanksgiving already. So I’m going for “good enough” because I’m just so busy this year and garlic is very forgiving.

The garlic will be finished maybe late June so choose a part of the garden you won’t need until them. Someplace the squash will eventually grow over is a good spot.

 
Photocredits
http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/trick-planting-healthy-garlic

 

Drought again?!

by Sandy SwegelDrought

Unseasonably warm weather means I finally had time to get some more bulbs planted this week.  It has been warm and sunny this fall but I didn’t fully realize how drought had snuck up on us until I went to dig the deep holes for the daffodils.  In decent garden soil that has had regular if modest irrigation all year, the soil below six inches was dry dry dry.  Pulverized dirt dry.  During times of drought, the soil all over dries down.  The water table recedes and deep-rooted trees and grasses have used up whatever water is available.  We can keep irrigating with an inch of water a week on the surface, but it’s not possible to water enough to keep the soil moist deep in the ground if there’s not natural rainfall.

Drought really snuck up on lots of the US this year.  Except for poor southern California, most of the country started the year with good water.  Now significant parts of the plains and south east (as well as southern California which started the year dry) are experiencing moderate to severe drought.  See the drought monitor for your area.  http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu  In my area, we went from an awesome spring to viritually no rain since July.

So what’s happening in your garden now?  Here’s what happens in moderate drought:

Soil with clay in it turns hard and cracks open.  (The clay shrinks when it dries out.)Drought

Soil critters go into self-preservation mode.   During times of drought they have varying survival techniques from as simple as laying eggs for the next generation once conditions improve.  Earthworms go into a hibernation-like state called estivation.  Balled up little earthworms are what I found in my garden bed when I was planting bulbs.

What can you do besides pray for rain or snow or freeze? Drought

Give your trees and shrubs a good long slow-watering now.  Trees need 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter once a month.  If your irrigation is still turn on, you can run it longer than usual.  Or put a light sprinkler on for several hours.  Here’s a great fact-sheet on ways to water trees during drought.   http://www.colostate.edu/Dept/CoopExt/4dmg/Trees/caring.htm

Otherwise, leave the soil alone.  Digging in too dry soil ruins soil texture just like digging in too wet soil.  The soil I had dug for the daffodils was like dust when I filled the holes back in.

Pay attention to rain or snow this month.  If you aren’t getting significant precipitation, water the trees and shrubs once a month even if the ground is frozen.

And pray for rain.

 

Garlic Chives – A Rugged Plant with Pretty Flowers

by Sandy Swegel

Garlic Chives

It’s that time of year when I nominate plants for this year’s Garden Awards. All Fall I’ve been admiring one plant that is a “crossover” plant able to be a contender in both the “Tough and able to handle the absolute worst soil and little water” category AND a nominee in the “Aren’t You Pretty” category. That stellar plant this year is Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum). It gets extra kudos for being a late season nectar and pollen source for bees and butterflies too.

The flowers are beautiful little white stars. Even as they turn to green seeds pods, they are still attractive enough to put in a vase. I’ve never seen any bugs or pests or disease on the chives…probably because they do smell like garlic.

Garlic Chives

Pungent aroma is one reason they aren’t a perfect garden flower. The greens are edible just like garden chives (and known in Asian cooking as Chinese chives). The flavor is more garlicky than onion-y. They are lovely thrown in a stir fry or sauteed and served in egg or tofu dishes.

Now full disclosure requires I tell the other downside of garlic chives: they make a lot of seeds. And they love to reseed in rocks and crevices of garden walls. I deal with this by dead-heading the seed heads in about October before the black seeds drop. While this can be a bother in an irrigated flower garden, it’s not a problem at all in a tough xeric area where there’s not much water anyway.

Garlic Chives

You can direct seed the chives or start them and transplant. The only extra requirement they have is that they need dark to germinate well….so sprinkle some soil over the seeds. Most of the time the chives overwinter or reseed. They grow in clumps about a foot tall and the flowers are one – two inches wide…depending on your water and soil fertility. If you have sun and moist soil they grow big and spread quickly. But part shade is fine. So is very dry or heavy clay soil. The plants will be smaller, but still impressive.

Yes, that’s what the garlic chives were this year: impressive. Tough plants and pretty.

 
Photo Credits
http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/FullImageDisplay.aspx?documentid=10864
https://www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/alltuberosum.htm
http://statebystategardening.com/images/uploads/article_uploads/11June_mwnews_5-B2.jpg

 

Trapped by Nature

by Sandy SwegelTrapped by nature

Traffic jams and Mother Nature conspired yesterday to make me notice. I had to get to work early and as I reached the top of a hill I could see the traffic on the single highway was at a dead stop for miles. In my hurry that day I had also let my cell phone battery run down and the car charger was suddenly broken. I decided I was too impatient to wait and tried a detour but soon it was obvious a thousand other people were trying this too. So I was driving about five miles per hour for 45 minutes with no smart phone, no music or news to listen to, and it was the best thing that happened to me all week.

Forced idleness tricked me into simply being and observing. My detour took me thru areas of small farms just after sunrise. So many wonders.

There was a hundred-year old cottonwood tree with only the outer three feet of all the branches turned bright yellow. Every other leaf was dark green. It looked like a punk rocker hairstyle. Then traffic inched on and I saw fields of organic kale. Some frozen solid and white frosted. Others just an acre away but three feet or so up slope were dark green. Cold sinks into low areas and that morning the frost line ran right through the field of kale. Traffic inched forward and I saw flocks of chickens put out to free range surrounded by the flimsiest electric fence. I laughed out loud and remembered my first chickens where we installed one of those portable electric fences. We stood back proudly and watched as our chickens figured out right away that even with clipped wings they could fly up to the top of the short electric fence and not get shocked because they were birds and didn’t have a foot touching the ground to conduct electricity. They just jumped off into neighboring field.

Trapped by Nature

The rest of the slow ride gave me dozens more magical moments. A hay field already finished for the year had hot air ballooners just starting to inflate tiny collapsed balloons. Down the way, llamas stood at fierce guard between the big noisy cars and their sheep munching quietly in the background. Hawks and huge birds of prey were swooping as if on roller coasters on the winds coming off the mountainTrapped by Nature

I hope events conspire to give you a rest sometime. Life is so busy and full of thinking and doing that we grown ups don’t get delighted so often. And much as we’d like, we can’t force the magic. I drove the same way home that day. The cottonwood tree had turned more normal yellow during the day. The chickens were locked away safely from coyotes and I forgot to look for the llamas because I was thinking about dinner. So if you have a moment today when the grandeur of Nature breaks through the mundane…be sure to notice and be happy.