Sunday, February 23, 2014

Copper trees, Stink Bugs, The Bay Bridge and The Holy Grail--Is that Random Enough?

The weather has been teasing us, it has been warm, even sunny.  I drove with my windows open a little yesterday, but winter will win again.  Maybe a bit of snow tonight and a some more on Tuesday into Wednesday.   Spring is peeking through the blinds, but hasn't come in yet.

Despite the glorious weather, I had an indoor activity planned for yesterday.  I took an art class with a local wire sculptor, Devin Mack. The first time I met him a year ago,  I watched him create part of a large, detailed sculpture of a female trapeze artist while hardly even glancing at his hands.  He stood staring at some place in his brain and bent each piece into place. The spine and ribcage emerged as I watched, completely recognizable as human.

I just took a moment to look to see what he has on-line, and I found a time lapse video of him making The Aerialist at AnnMarie Sculpture Garden. I wasn't aware he was being photographed, and lo and behold thirty seconds into the video I appear for two  seconds, wearing the same polar fleece I am wearing right now.  At Devin Mack's Website you can watch him create the trapeze artist without him having to consult any reference or drawing.

Winter Tree, 20 gauge copper wire sculpture
Anyway, my point in all this is that I took the class and somehow ended up seated between two others who also volunteer at the sculpture garden, whom I had seen, but never really met.  They both like to write, they are both into gardening  and art and when a classmate referred to her progress creating a wire tree she referred to it as a shrubbery and the three of us giggled and started talking about Roger the Shrubberer, and how we were "getting better" and "going for a walk" (Monty Python  and the Holy Grail references, for the uninitiated).  I thought I had been transported back to high school for a moment or two.

My tree sculpture from the class isn't quite finished, it needs a bit more crimping on the ends and balancing of the branches, but here it is.

Bug Hunters in Repose
Speaking of trees, later this week I will be taking a  class on growing fruit  in the Chesapeake Bay area. The class not going to be much like the art class, more of a series of lectures with me scribbling notes furiously.  There is one section on beach plums which will come in handy when my trees/bushes arrive in a few weeks. After listening to so many people moan about how hard it is to grow stone fruit here, the section on variety selection for the area will either tell us that we have selected well or rather badly. The segment on brown marmorated stinkbugs (Maryland's imported version of cockroaches and Japanese beetles combined, as far as I'm concerned) may also prove to be useful.  The nasty little things suck on fruit and mess it up and invade my kitchen as insectoid kamikazes sometimes diving at the lights, sometimes our heads. They do provide the a bit of entertainment as the cats bobble and hop about to chase and eat them. They don't seem to mind the taste. The big, tough, hunting dog barks at the  bugs then pounces and eats them, which is on par with the rest of her hunting skills.  

They are predicting snow the day of the class, which won't be fun since to get to there I will have to cross the Bay Bridge, which is on the list of the scariest bridges in the US.  It is like being on a road suspended  high in the air by nothing, you see nothing off the sides, just a jersey barrier and then nothing (for five miles), add wind, heavy traffic, and crazy, aggressive drivers trying to make the experience as short as possible by driving as fast as possible, and it makes for an all too memorable experience.  I'd rather drive the George Washington Bridge in NYC on a Friday night, in the rain/sleet (like I did last December) than take this one on a sunny day.

The chickens are blissfully ignorant of the coming snow, they are scratching in the flower bed, exposing the just beginning to sprout daffodils.  They have become much more productive now that the weather has improved. I was able to take a frittata to a potluck yesterday that contained fifteen eggs with  a few eggs left over and then found three more this morning, one still warm.  Time to to check behind the hedges to see if there are any that I have missed...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Bonfires of Spring

We aren't big on statuary, but we do have the pensive frog in the flower garden, that paired with the watering can that was left out before the snow (used to water the tender plants living in the garage for the winter).  It seems frozen in place, waiting for the predicted two inches of wintery mix due to fall from the sky in the dark of the night.  It's just in time for school to start up again, after the long, snow-extended holiday weekend.  The very good news is that it is supposed to reach the low sixties by the end of the week!!  Spring is coming!  Athena will be pleased.

Today is a glorious winter day, clear, bright, cold, but not too cold, light breeze.  My husband and I each spent a bit of time pruning the fruit trees.  He handled the major surgery on the established trees and I pruned the little ones that we have planted in the past two years.  Last year he seriously hacked at the pear tree and then realized that he still hadn't gone far enough, so he is at it again.  We probably won't see pears again for two more years, but the tree has been shaped properly, so that it can grow into a nice old tree someday.It was nice to get outside and do something productive. 

Close up of one row of woodpecker holes.

Row upon row of woodpecker holes all the way up the trunk of the  crab apple.

Rose of Sharon-bird/bug damage.
There has been a good reason why I have seen a pretty diverse population of woodpeckers in the yard, the trees are infested with yummy bugs.  The gorgeous old crab apple will not be with us long, neither will the bigger of the two rose of Sharon trees.The  problem is that the bugs that eat these trees would find all the nice little baby trees we're planting to be delectable and provide a  population reservoir ready to ravage all our hard work.  The books and internet urge us to chop them down and  to burn or remove the wood from the property.  I want one more season of the crab apple blossoms, the beautiful old tree was one of the reasons I fell in love with the property.   Sigh.

Bonfire. Our yard. Bummer.  It is so beautiful.

Discussions have begun as to what should be planted in that space, something beautiful and fruitful,  Asian pears and persimmons have been mentioned, but no decisions yet.  Any recommendations?

Thursday, February 13, 2014


There is a purring fluffy, charcoal gray cat in my lap (not on the keyboard, finally) and a buff tabby on my polar fleece three feet away, the pellet stove is roaring, seven inches of heavy slushy snow is on  half of the driveway (this afternoon's project), and I'm sitting here in my thermals and sweats obsessing about gardening. 

The sprouts are up, except for the broccoli raab, which was the newest seed.

They are under the  fluorescent lights in the garage getting used to the chill,  now I just need to  keep them alive until they have a couple sets of leaves and the ground defrosts.

Time to make the pizza dough for dinner...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Snow, Ice and Seedlings

Somehow it is still winter.  We had a few warmish days and then we were sent straight back to the teens again.  I'm anticipating that the schools will be closed for tomorrow due to the snow and ice storm headed our way, I must check our inventory of hot chocolate and prep some cookies.  I'm sure that the sleds will be out and there will be lots of wet mittens and gloves tomorrow.

Despite the wet and cold, I look to spring.  My big box of seeds has emerged from the closet and I have given it a good clean out, anything dated before 2010 is gone, but that still leaves quite a lot.  I generally don't plant a whole packet of most things, so I have a bit of everything left each year.  If anyone local needs veggie seeds--don't buy any until you check with me, I might have half a packet leftover from the last couple of years. The seed marketing folks don't want you to believe that seeds can be good for several years, but they are, there may be a few more duds each year, but most are still good.
The seed box, before editing.

I looked back over my notes for my garden last year and realized that I put out my cool season greens waaaaaaaaaaay too late, which may be why they were ravaged by bugs and slugs.  So, knowing this, I pulled out my seedling heat mat on Monday, and the  mini-greenhouses and dove into the cool season vegetable world.  Kale (2 kinds), collards, broccoli, broccoli raab, mustard spinach (Komatsuna), Swiss chard (2 kinds), Chinese cabbage (for kimchi!!!) and two types of bok choy seeds went into the seed starting mix.  As of this morning, less than 48 hours later, there are many germinating  seeds just popping to the surface.  I'll be firing up the plant lights  in the garage tomorrow.  In about two weeks, I'll plant a bit more broccoli and broccoli raab.
Seedlings to be (I hope)

Despite the cold, I have been back to the horse rescue shoveling manure into tubs to haul home.  The top two inches are frozen, but after I break through the crust everything is shovel-able.  I've extended my long narrow front garden another five feet and will widen it when the daytime temps hover closer to the mid-thirties.  My husband, the plant doctor, says that he has been getting e-mails at work predicting more dry weather in California this year, which would cause much higher vegetable and agricultural product prices because of poor harvests.  He is encouraging me to keep the back garden because of this.  If he helps weed and water, I'm all for it.

It's time to pull out the wire fencing and leather gloves to fashion critter resistant cages, the battle with the squirrels and bunnies last year destroyed any hopes I have for ever raising uncaged okra, cantaloupes or cucumbers.  I'd put the cukes in and within a few hours the squirrels would have them uprooted, I'd put them in again and they would repeat the process until the plants died and I gave up.  They didn't mess with the pumpkins or watermelons though.  The cantaloupes and okra would be nice little seedlings with a few leaves in the morning and by afternoon they would be merely a tiny piece of stem extending slightly above the ground.  I'd replant and you know the story.

So, I'm off to get organized for the sledding, shoveling and pre-season gardening!