Garden log, 2.4.16

Planted poppy seeds today, only four months late. Papaver orientale ‘Brilliant’ in the hot border; Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’ in the blue slope and on either side of the climbing rose ‘Generous Gardener’ in the back. P. somniferum ‘Hungarian blue breadseed’ in the bed by the front walk, except for one more patch of ‘Lauren’s Grape’ closest to the acanthus.

Also planted two P. orientale ‘Allegro’ transplants in the hot border a few weeks ago.

 

A new project: Bees

Because I’m not overcommitted, yesterday I ordered 6 pounds of bees and two hives. I’m taking a beekeeping class run by my local beekeeping club. And in about six weeks I’ll drive two hours west to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, pick up my bees, and begin a new adventure.

If you garden much at all, you’re probably aware of the plight of Apis mellifera, the European honeybee. Between varroa mites (Varroa destructor), the mysterious colony collapse disorder, and a charming array of other pests, diseases, and environmental insults, only about 16% of feral bee colonies survive one year (American Bee Journal). Sustainable colony management is essential to helping the species survive.

Yesterday I began preparing my bee yard. I’m resisting calling it an apiary; that seems a rather aspirational term given that I’ve got two hives and no experience.

The ideal spot to locate hives is in full sun, away from well-traveled paths. That place doesn’t exist on my half-acre suburban property. The full-sun locations in my garden are immediately adjacent to my neighbor’s driveway, where a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old play daily. Everywhere else on the property is well shaded by mature oak trees.

I’ve chosen a small spot behind my shed, where the bees will be sheltered but should still get some morning sun. I’ll face the hives towards the southeast, because light stimulates them to start their day. Yesterday I cleared the area of ivy and vinca vines, leveled the ground, and laid a few inches of gravel where the hives will be. Gravel helps suppress small hive beetles, a pest I’m told I will have to accept around here. Chickens are also excellent at helping to suppress the beetles–they adore the larvae–but that’s a project for another day.

I’m also clearing ivy vines that have grown up the trunk of one of the nearby oaks. I won’t be able to reach them at the top, but by getting as much as I can off the trunk, I will permit more light to reach the bee yard.

thicky ivy vine

This English ivy vine (Hedera helix) has gotten way out of hand. It’s nearly the size of my wrist.

I started at ground level, wedging a cat’s paw tool–a wide, flat crowbar/nail puller about 12 inches long–between the trunk’s bark and the vine. I pried it back from the bark, slid it up the trunk as far as I could, and pried again.

Ivy vine pulled back from the trunk.

One vine pulled back from the trunk.

I’ve wedged brick fragments between the trunk and the vine to keep the vines from reattaching until I can complete the project.

I hate to use herbicides in my garden, but this is a desperate case. I’ll pull off as much as I safely can, and paint the remaining vine with brush killer. I will probably also paint the base of the vine with the same, and dig it out once it’s dead. I know from experience that if I don’t use herbicide on something as large as this, I will never eradicate it.

Wish me luck. I’ll post photos of the carnage when I can.

 

 

We are skipping winter.

It’s Christmas Day and it’s 80 degrees. Forecast doesn’t call for anything below about 45 for the next week.

The plants have decided to get on with it. Narcissus cantabricus, which I only planted at Thanksgiving one month ago, started blooming today, a month sooner than expected.

 

Narcissus cantabricus

Narcissus cantabricus

The winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, has started blooming. Its lemon scent is detectable whenever I pass by.

And the Cyclamen coum also have begun to bloom, about six or seven weeks ahead of schedule.



The flowering quince, Chaenomeles sp., has been blooming for a month now. It’s beginning to trade its flowers for new leaves.


And finally, the Daphne is about to show off. When it blooms, no one will notice the Lonicera.


Lots of my friends are enjoying this weather, but it depresses me. While one Christmas data point does not a trend make, I have lived in this area the better part of 30 years and I remember when it was never warm enough to wear sandals and shorts as we took out the holiday trash. I have spent the past ten years working in the garden on New Year’s Day,    needing nothing much warmer than jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Looks like this year will be the same, unless it’s raining.

I guess that any day spent in the garden cannot be too melancholy. Whatever holiday you celebrate, I hope it is a happy one.

First snowdrops 

My first snowdrops of the year bloomed today. I don’t think it’s unusual for Galanthus nivalis to bloom this time of year, but it’s a first in my garden, I think, to have them bloom before Christmas.

  
It’s a ridiculous 70 degrees today. My kids don’t believe me when I tell them that when I was their age, I wore a coat and a sweater to school in December. 

I hope your days are filled with peace.

Zinnias can take the heat

zinnia single yellow 3

It’s been appallingly hot, in the mid- to high 90s (35C), but the zinnias don’t seem to mind. The more I cut them, the more they bloom, so I cut them and enjoy indoors. I grew these from seed; they’re an excellent flower for gardeners new to seed-sowing to try.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Recipe: Ground cherry (Physalis) jam

This time last year, I began harvesting piles of ground cherries (also known as cape gooseberries, Physalis ‘Cossack Pineapple’). The tiny fruits grow in a husk, like the tomatillos to which they are related. When the husk turns dry and brittle and the fruits are golden without a hint of green, they’re ripe and ready to eat. They’ll often fall off the bush when they’re ready, which is why they’re called “ground cherries.”

husks and fruit

Ground cherries grow encased in calyces that turn brittle when the fruit is ripe.

The plants grew exponentially in the hot weather and set fruit faster than I could pick it. But, having never grown nor eaten them before–I do love an experiment–I didn’t know what to do with them. I can certainly recommend eating them like popcorn. They’re exceptionally high in vitamin C and make a terrific snack.

ground cherries physalis fruits in bowl

The peeled fruit of ground cherries (Physalis sp.).

Craving variety from eating them out-of-hand, I began experimenting with canning. Appalled by the amounts of sugar most recipes directed me to add, I turned to Pomona’s Universal Pectin, which permits the cook to cut the amount of sugar in the recipe by about half.

I began, logically, with Pomona’s recipe for Ground Cherry Jam but wanted to give it some flair. Taking a cue from recipes I’ve seen combining stone fruits and rich spices (cinnamon plum, vanilla peach, etc.), and inspired by another combination I saw online once but can no longer find, I split open a bag of chai tea (yes, redundant) and dumped the leaves into the pot in Step 5 of Pomona’s recipe, when the fruit is brought to a boil (I added the tea, then the pectin mixture). The leaves and spices were finely ground, but you may break the bag into a ramekin and sift out larger pieces before adding it to the jam, if you wish.

I stirred it well, then proceeded to fill the jars and boil as directed.

physalis jam

The finished product.

It is absolutely delicious; a lovely combination of bright citrus and smoky spice.