We are loving spring around the farm. We are getting in the gardens, raking the leaves out and tilling up the soil. My Star Magnolia tree is bursting with its showy blooms.
It is such a beautiful sight. I love this magnolia tree.
The days are getting longer and the sun’s rays are growing stronger each day. Even with a foot or so of snow still on the ground, I can feel spring in the air and we have begun our preparations.
I finally got around to getting some winter sowing done this past weekend. My first attempt a few years ago was enough of a success to convince me to continue trying this process. I started saving milk jugs earlier this year and requested a friend to do the same, so I had a good supply.
I discussed the basics of the winter sowing process in this earlier post from 2010:
Some changes that I have made to the process since my first attempt is to not cut the milk jugs completely in half, but rather to leave the handle side attached to act as a hinge in the spring when you need to open the containers during the warm days. I also write the flower variety on a craft stick and place it inside the container instead of writing on the outside of the milk jug, which wears off in the weather over time.
This year I am attempting to winter sow the following varieties of flowers:
I am even attempting winter sowing some kale (Kale Winterbor Hybrid). I will let you know how that turns out.
The milk jugs are all taped up and ready for placement in the snow to await spring. In a few months, these containers will house some little seedlings to add to my gardens.
I wrote the following post in the summer after my first attempt at winter sowing, showing the little seedlings and the bigger plants once transplanted to the garden: Winter Sowing Update.
It is hard to believe that this cost-effective process can yield such great results. My biggest success in winter sowing to date has been my poppies and foxgloves. I wrote about my foxglove successes in winter sowing in 2011: Foxgloves: A Favorite.
On the flip side, I have struggled with the germination of Delphinium, typically only getting a few seedlings out of a packet of seeds. I adore Delphiniums in my garden so much however, that despite my limited success, I continue trying to winter sow them. And considering the cost of perennial plants, a $2 packet of seeds is still a good deal, even if I do eventually only get 3 or 4 plants for the garden.
Besides winter sowing, we also got some trees tapped in hopes of getting some sap this year. Last year was such a strangely warm winter and spring that the sap never ran and we were unable to make any maple syrup. The summer continued with very little rain and drought conditions.
Jesse’s mother sent him an article, Maple Syrup and Drought, from the University of Minnesota Extension website that discusses the dilemma of tapping maple trees after a drought year. After reading the article and comments, Jesse decided to only put one tap in each tree, as opposed to the two or three he usually does in the bigger trees.
After hanging milk jugs on the trees to collect the sap, we will be ready to go when the sap starts running.
Not only do we all enjoy the process of making the maple syrup, we also love having it on our pancakes, waffles, french toast, etc., and in our oatmeal throughout the year. Last year, we missed both the maple syrup process and the product. We are hoping for normal spring conditions this year that promote a healthy sap run for our trees.
I hope your spring preparations are going well in whatever part of the world you live!
For additional posts on making maple syrup, see the following:
Maple Syrup Adventure: Part I (March 3, 2010)
Spring Flooding and Maple Miscalculations (March 14, 2010)
Nonetheless, the drudgery and length of winter here in Minnesota can sometimes get me down.
This morning, as I walked into Target, I saw bouquets of tulips on display. I knew that a splash of spring in the house would definitely lift my winter weary spirits.
So, I decided to treat myself and I chose a beautiful pink color for big impact. I couldn’t wait to get them home.
I feel so much better already. Life is so dull without flowers. Thank you, Target, for this lovely pick-me-up.
Come on, spring! Hurry up!
The strange winter continues here in Minnesota…
On February 29th, only two and a half weeks ago, this is what it looked like outside our window.
The snow started during the night and by morning, we had almost a foot of heavy, wet snow. School was cancelled and we were officially all “snowed in.” It was the first snow day of the school year and nobody was complaining around here about staying home.
March rolled in the next day and as quick as it had arrived, all that snow started to melt away. The temperatures soared and before too long, there was no trace of snow left.
When the temperatures started hitting the upper 60′s and 70′s several days in a row, we started to notice some interesting things happening around the farm.
We checked the bee hives and were happy to see that they are definitely still alive. This good news means that we have successfully wintered our bees for the first time! (Most likely due to the warm winter temperatures we have had, rather than our beekeeping skills).
We also noticed the bees were out foraging. They seemed to like the sap leaking out of the maple trees that we pruned in late February.
Since they are active so early this year and there is little food supply available yet, Jesse decided to start feeding them some sugar syrup to get them through the next month or so. He also took off the black winter hive covers because of the warm temperatures – we don’t want them to cook in there! The hives both seem really strong, so we are excited to see how this season turns out.
After a week of continuous March temperatures near or over 70F, we also noticed that my gardens are starting to wake up and spring to life. These poppies were hiding under the leaf mulch.
My tulips have also decided it is time to make an early appearance.
With our warm weekend temperatures (more 70′s), we spent most of our time outdoors and in the gardens. Although we realize it is very early in the season by Minnesota standards, we started the process of cleaning up the raspberry patch anyways.
After digging up all the rogue plants to reduce the rows back down to about 12″ wide, we cut our all the old canes and re-strung the wire that holds the plants upright.
We then trimmed all the remaining canes to about chest height, applied a 10-10-10 fertilizer, and lightly tilled along the sides of the rows. When we get around to it (hopefully within a week or two), we will put down a chopped straw mulch to try controlling weeds.
Since the frost was already out and the soil was so dry (we have had very little snow this winter), Jesse went ahead and tilled the whole garden up. We like to work it up several times in the spring if possible, before we do the bulk of our planting.
And finally, the last crazy thing we did on this 18th day of March here in Minnesota, was to plant some lettuce (mild mesculun mix) and spinach. These crops can handle some colder temperatures, so even though I know better, I am taking a risk and giving it a try.
(Last spring, my first planting of lettuce was on May 7th, after a very cold and wet spring.)
So, the madness of this Minnesota winter continues into March. I’m hoping we have seen the last of snow, but after living here my entire life, I know that just about anything can happen yet this spring.
But whatever happens, I’ll be ready. I couldn’t be happier to be back out in the gardens.
Hope you are enjoying some March madness wherever you are too!
The first hard frost has come and gone already here in Minnesota and I am still looking through my garden photos from summer and trying to get caught up. I wanted to share an update on my perennials that I started by using the winter sowing method. After starting out in the winter of 2010 with these mini-greenhouses…
The seeds eventually sprouted in the spring and I set them out to keep growing.
I eventually moved the seedlings into the garden. One of my favorite flowers are foxgloves (digitalis) and I had tried direct sowing the seeds into my perennial garden a few times with no success. Using the winter sowing method, the germination of the foxglove seed was excellent. Last summer, my new foxgloves were thriving and the plants looked like this.
Foxgloves are classified as a biennial and do not typically flower the first year, as was the case with mine. This summer however, they put on a spectacular show and graced my garden with their beautiful spikes of tubular flowers.
I’m not sure what to expect next summer. I did not get around to doing any winter sowing this past winter, so I know that I won’t have any foxgloves ready to bloom next year. Because they often re-seed themselves however, I am hoping that I will have a lot of them sprouting up in the spring and I will be able to enjoy them in 2013.
In the meantime, I have a renewed motivation to make time to do more winter sowing this year.
I am SO far behind on posting, it’s a little embarrassing. Although life has been crazy with our oldest son’s high school graduation and departure to West Point on June 26th, I have still managed to get out and take pictures around the farm. Having the time to put them together in a post however, has been another story.
Instead of authoring blog posts, I have spent most of my free time searching for photos of our son on flickr and facebook. West Point does a great job of photographing the new cadets as they are going through their summer basic training, know fondly as “Beast Barracks.” Every once in a while you can catch a glimpse of your new cadet on one of these sites and it makes the lack of communication just a little easier to tolerate. He will be able to contact us by phone and email once again when the academic year starts in late August.
But back to life on our little farm…
Spring came and went a long time ago, but here I am posting just a few of my spring pictures in the middle of July. Admittedly, this is lame, but here I go anyhow.
I had some fun experimenting with my telephoto lens this spring. I tried it out on some lilac buds and thought the results were interesting.
The tulips I planted last fall in my new perennial garden were as beautiful as I had hoped. Tulips are such a welcome sight in the dreariness of spring. I hope to plant some more this fall.
Last year I purchased a Star Magnolia tree and planted it in my new perennial garden. It was a pretty small tree and I didn’t know what to expect this spring. I was pleasantly surprised when 4 large white blossoms emerged. In another 10 years this should be an impressive sight in the spring! :-)
And of course, every spring we enjoy this Prairie Fire crabapple tree outside our kitchen window. It is always loaded with honeybees (click here for pictures) and the intense color is splendid!
The month of October has been beautiful here in Minnesota. I heard that we had something like 28 days of sunshine. All things must come to an end however, and this week things finally turned. We had three days of rain and extreme winds. The record low pressure system blanketing the state was equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane. The winds blew fiercely, gusting up to 60 mph at times.
Our trampoline was swept away with the wind. It did not stop rolling until it smashed into the side of our pole shed.
The skies finally cleared and yesterday morning I woke up to find that we had gotten our first really hard frost of the season. I headed outdoors with my camera to take a look.
The lingering hydrangea blossoms got hit hard…
…and so did the foliage.
The frost adhered especially well to the soft leaves of the Lamb’s Ear plants.
The frost blanketed the grass…
…and the buildings.
The few leaves remaining on the Autumn Blaze maple in the front yard drifted to the ground.
The delightful roses still blooming in the garden seemed shocked.
I could see the rose’s slow death starting, with this blossom drooping its weary head.
And this perfect rose bud, with all its potential, will never have a chance to open…
“October is nature’s funeral month. Nature glories in death more than in life. The month of departure is more beautiful than the month of coming – October than May. Every green thing loves to die in bright colors.”
- Henry Ward Beecher
Although the growing season is winding down around here, there is still plenty of activity going on outside.
The honeybees are busy collecting pollen from the blossoms of the mini-pumpkin plants in preparation for winter.
The morning glories have finally started blooming. It won’t be long before the first frost around here, so I need to enjoy these beauties as much as possible over the next few weeks.
Even the shrub roses continue to offer some blooms to enjoy.
The Sedum is in full bloom.
The Pee-gee Hydrangea has taken on the rich pink hues of fall.
The Rudbeckia continues to push out some new flowers, but most of the blooms are becoming tattered.
The asters have just started to blossom. The warm weather predicted for this week will likely encourage them to burst into full bloom.
And the leaves are changing.
No doubt about it, fall is here…which means winter is around the corner. I am not a big fan of winter (especially here in Minnesota), so I am going to cling to the beauty of autumn as long as possible.
I bought a new lens (Tamron 70-200mm/ 2.8) a few weeks ago to try to capture some better pictures of my kiddos at their sporting events. Over these past weeks, I have taken hundreds of pictures trying to get the feel for the new lens. I’m not convinced yet. The return policy is within 30 days and I am facing that deadline in about 10 days.
I called to talk to the technical people at the store yesterday to ask about some of my problems with the lens. The kind gentleman was very honest and told me it was most likely a combination of my “older” Nikon D40 (It’s only 3 years old!!!) and what he called, “the operator.” I managed to stay calm, mostly because I knew he was right. I’m still learning all this photography stuff and this fancy schmancy lens might just be too much for my “outdated” camera and my fledgling ability.
Nonetheless, I took the lens outside today to try a few more shots. I tried shooting in a variety of modes, settings, etc.
The final test for the lens will be over the next two evenings at an indoor swim meet and a Friday night football game. If I still can’t manage to capture some good shots after talking to my friend at the camera store, I might return the lens and try something else. Any suggestions?
This photography stuff is fun, but frustrating.
I planted a cutting garden for the first time last year, growing a variety of annual flowers from seeds. I enjoyed the convenience of having a supply of flowers to cut for bouquets without having to worry about how they looked overall in the garden. Once the seeds germinated, it required some attention to keep the weeds at bay. As the annual flowers grew, however, they took over and significantly reduced the chore of weeding.
Because I enjoyed it so much last year, I decided to plant another one this year. I planted cosmos, bachelor buttons, larkspur and a variety of zinnias. One mistake was planting the cosmos near the front of the cutting garden in one section because they grew so tall that they blocked out nearly everything behind them. Otherwise, the seedlings took off and started to flower.
Although the tall plants have collapsed due to the wind and heavy rains we have received.
The zinnias are blooming in all shapes and sizes. Before last year, I refused to even consider growing these flowers because I had always stereotyped them as ugly “old-lady” flowers. You know, in the same group as marigolds. After browsing through the seed packets at the local nursery, I decided to give these old standbys a chance. I am so glad that I came to my senses because these flowers are the stars of the cutting garden with their variety of shapes, sizes, colors and textures.
I battled the new crop of mosquitos today after work and went out and picked a bouquet to brighten up the indoors. The flowers are getting a little tattered from all the weather, but I still managed to find enough to put something together. Having flowers from my garden in the house makes me smile and always cheers me up.
It seems as though I typically only go out to pick a bouquet of flowers if we are expecting visitors. This is unfortunate because bringing the garden indoors is a great way to admire the fruits of your labor.
I plan to have a cutting garden again next year and hopefully I will remind myself to take the time to treat myself to a bouquet of flowers inside more often. After all, that is the point of having a cutting garden!
In these last few weeks before our first frost, my goal is to continuously have a bouquet on display in the house…just for me.