Thursday, January 22, 2009

Shirl's challenge

Shirl, put up the challenge: You are going to a dessert island and can bring three plants. Which ones would you pick? (There is already all kinds of veggies there, so all ornamental) Go to her blog to see all the "answers"
Here's mine.
It is really a challenge........ after lots of consideration - without looking things up in magazines and on the web - I decided that something to ad structure would be more important than beautiful flowers (which I really wouldn't want to be without either)

1. Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki' (dappled willow).

It is a small shrub, the young leaves variegated green, white and pink. You can create a small tree working with one year old rods:

A willow can be utilized in many ways using living or dried rods. Hedges, fences, baskets, plant supports, furniture, shelter to name a few. You can also ad some sprigs to alcohol for a nice bitter - which by the way also cures aches and pains as willow contain salicylic acid.

2. Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' (feather reed grass). There are so many beautiful grasses - very difficult to pick out one - but blooming fairly early with fantastic colours and the plant's shape and beauty in winter made me pick this one. I bought one plant 4 years ago and today I have about 25 of them simply by dividing the plant every year. Now I'll let it rest to develop larger beautiful clumps.

3. Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'. Had to be a hydrangea and this is the one that I know the best, but there are so many gorgeous ones - I really like the blue and purple mopheads and the lacey ones, and how about the oak leafs (but unfortunately they are not as easy-going in my garden climate). The big, long lasting flower heads on 'Limelight' start out a pale lime green and the colour change on the flowers as they mature into deep pink/burgundy and look beautiful until winter.

Sorry, I didn't have any photos from the garden of number 2 and 3, but you can find them on many great websites. My favorite for information and links is: Yvonne Cunnington's site has beautiful photos and great garden info. and if you are not familiar with her blog, check that out too.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winter Harvest

Freezing cold winters often with thick covers of snow doesn't seem to be the time to harvest any crop - but we actually have a few exemptions.........

Those of you who grow kale or Brussels sprouts know that these brassicas will turn sweeter, less bitter, and more aromatic after a little frost - and how nice it is to be able to pick a little "green" long after the growing season is over.
Corn - I would never have thought a farmer to harvest corn in winter. I don't know the reason, if it was planned to be or not, but a couple of weeks ago - when we had a few days without any snow - a farmer down the road from us harvested corn. I drove by this dead looking field and there he was with his big machine and a huge trailer filled with small golden-yellow kernels!
This Saturday we went to the Niagara Icewine Festival in Jordan. Yes, the shelves are made of pure ice.

Now, living close to the Niagara Wine Country, winter harvest of grapes for the production of icewine is known to more people. The first icewine (eiswein in German) was produced a couple of centuries ago when a German grape farmer was surprised by an early frost. As he didn't want to waste the grapes, he pressed the juice from the frozen grapes and the resulting wine was icewine.

Many of Niagara's wineries now produce icewine and for the past few years we have enjoyed visiting one of the Niagara Icewine Festival events: The Twenty Valley Icewine Bar in the Jordan Village. Saturday was extremely cold and the people serving samples at the bar - made of a gigantic slab of ice - were in an admirably good mood considering their frozen hands and feet.Some of them danced to keep warm - between pouring glasses full of sweet samples - to the beats from the live entertainment.

There were beautiful ice sculptures - like this table. We, as other people, used to enjoy standing at these tables, putting our glass down, enjoy some soup, or just talk; but this year it was just too cold and the tables were standing there as pretty statues.

Even the Queen was there (Winter Queen, Snow Queen, Ice Queen - what do you call her?) in her "nice and cozy chair" as she called her throne with the jester at her side.

In my own field I will be harvesting willow as soon as the snow allows me to do so.
Willow rods to be used for weaving are harvested while the plants are dormant, from November to March. The picture is taken in December and right now we have even more snow. As the rods are cut close to the ground, I have to wait till at least some of it has melted.
This will be my first harvest from the field and I am quite excited about it. Only one of my varieties will be dried to be used for weaving later on, but I'll tell you more at "harvesting time" in a separate post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Winter days and veggie wraps

I take the dogs for half-hour expeditions in our field when winter has ruled non-walking conditions on the road.

Recently fresh snow, blowing winds, and freeze-thaw cycles frequently covered up any trace from yesterday's sessions making the snow blanket new and "clean"- and on those beautiful sunny winter days the field seems sparkling with diamonds.

Hansen is not interested in that kind of nonsense, being a real westie bred for hunting he most times keeps busy sniffing around.

Here he got the scent of a mouse......

 circling around two mouse holes in the snow......

and finally he's at it....

Hey, didn't catch anything, but I had fun (the ball he doesn't care about)Duke on the other hand cares about nothing but the ball when we are outside........
Back at the house I find the mice have been very hungry. At least you would think so, as they (a little while back) have chewed a hole through a quite tough plastic lid on my bucket for "compost scraps" and now frequent the bucket's delicious veggie "wraps".

I wrap kitchen "stuff" for composting in newspaper for two reasons: it keeps my bucket clean and easy to empty and it ads some "brown" (carbon) content to the compost pile. As you can see from the image, the bucket or paper doesn't prevent the little critters from having dinner.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A will to grow

Willow has an enormous growth power and will grow in almost any soil condition when established.

I had used some clippings from my willows for a Christmas decoration along with cuttings from a blue spruce and the beautiful seed heads from my irises. To prevent the spruce from drying out and drop it's needles, I stuck it all in wet oasis and kept it moist all the time.

The cuttings from my Dragon Willow (Salix sachaliensis 'Sekka') started to root and grow almost immediately. I kept removing the shoots until just after Christmas and then I just left it alone.
Yesterday, when I wanted to "dismantle" the decoration to throw it out, it looked like this. The willows had rooted in the oasis, had numerous shoots and even a couple of catkins.
Willows contain a natural chemical called indolebutyric acid IBA which is a natural plant growth hormone and you can actually make your own "rooting hormone liquid" from willow twigs.
Because of this, the most common method for propagating willow is by cuttings.
You just cut a piece, the size of a pencil, (preferably from a one year old shoot during the dormant time of the year) and stick it in the soil. Keep it moist and it will grow.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Garter snake rescue

Saturday January 3rd was a beautiful day with sun and temperatures just above freezing. I decided to go outside to cut the branches off the Christmas tree so that I can use them for winter protection for the strawberries - once some of the snow has melted to reveal exactly where the plants are.

Our westie Hansen was sniffing around and suddenly started barking at something on the ground on top of a berm a few meters away from me. As I went over to check it - somehow I was thinking snake as I, many times during the summer and also late fall, had seen garter snakes there - I was surprised indeed, to find a curled up garter snake.

To help it (don't know it's sex) warm up enough to move back to the hibernation den we placed it on some black plastic close to where we had found it.

As the temperature was falling I went out to check on Icicle (thought that was a good name) and now it had moved down into deep snow and shade.

Now very stiff and the mouth full of snow there was only little signs of life. What to do?
We decided to try to artificially hibernate Icicle in our cold but frost free garage until spring. Nestled in a bucket with a small container with water and a black upside-down plant saucer with a hole at the base to hide under, we hope that he'll be fine. There is lots of life now although - as a hibernating snake should be - he is very slow.

Well, the Christmas tree is still waiting for it's second chance to serve........