Hummingbird, Meet Broccoli

This is exactly why you let the purple sprouting broccoli go to flower.

hummingbird

Hummingbird

hummingbird

hummingbird

hummingbird

hummingbird

hummingbird

hummingbird

This is an Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna), one of the most common (and yet, not at all “common”) hummingbirds in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve seen them in my garden year-round.

“No larger than a ping-pong ball and no heavier than a nickel,” says the uber-informative All About Birds, the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

They share more fascinating hummingbird facts:

  • Mostly green and grey, the male’s “gorget,” or throat patch, can shine with iridescent pink colors in the right sunlight. The color can extend over the bird’s entire head.
  • The males have a characteristic small white spot behind the eye.
  • During mating season, the males have a “dive display” in which they rise to 130 feet, then plummet down in a matter of seconds, stopping to hover a few feet in front of the object of their display.
  • Sometimes a bee or wasp will get impaled on the sharp beak of the bird, causing it to starve to death.
  • Their normal body temperature is about 107 degrees, but when it’s cold, they can go into “torpor” where their breathing and heart rate slows, and their temperature drops to 48.
  • They have tiny legs and can’t really walk or hop, but they can sort of scoot sideways when perched.

 

Rock Springs Eternal

We didn’t have Earth Day when I was growing up. But we had plenty of earth on our North Dakota farm. We called it dirt.

About this time in the spring, as ground would warm and the snow would melt off, we’d start the planting season by picking rocks.

I’d join my many siblings on a walk behind the tractor, which slowly pulled a shallow steel bin. We’d fan out, each grabbing a stone the size of his or her ability, the older kids teaming up to grapple with the larger rocks. We’d toss them into the bin and enjoy the satisfying clang.

Boy and his dog

Fritz and me, on the farm.

When we came across a particularly stubborn or hefty boulder, Dad would stop the tractor, get out the crowbar, and as many as were needed would grab onto it and heave it or roll it into the bin.

When the bin was full enough, Dad would back the bin up to the rock pile at the edge of the field and dump the load. Every year, the rock pile grew as the frost heaved the stones up from the deep.

That the earth spit rocks at us every year, we did not take personally. It was not a metaphor for the hard life of farming, even if it could have been. It was not a hated chore, although it was a difficult one.

This was just something that had to be done in order to grow wheat. You could not subject the cultivator’s tines or the discer’s blades to a soil full of rocks.

Quinoa

Quinoa going to seed.

My two main vegetable beds in the front yard are ready for planting. I’ve cleared the winter vegetables, forked dolomitic lime into the soil to restore a neutral pH, and covered the bed with a wire mesh to keep the cats out. I even cleared a few rocks that had sunk into the dirt, and placed them in a little pile on the edge of the garden.

This year, the larger bed is going into grain. Not wheat, although varieties are being tested for the western Washington climate. Rather, I’ll be planting amaranth and quinoa, two amazing, colorful and very different edible seeds. I saved the seed from my small stand of each last year, so now I can cover the bed.

It will be great to watch it wave in the summer breeze. It will remind me of the visible wind on the prairie, swathing through the amber grain, flowing like a river.

Practicing Patience in Planting

I can feel the vibe from here: when can we set out our tomatoes? A neighbor already has done it. Gangly plants in gallon-size pots are front-and-center in the stores. The questions go beyond tomatoes, though: how will you get your vegetables off to their best start? And what’s the right timing for planting the summer garden?

How? Season Extension

I’m on the verge of being a nag on this topic, but a great way to ensure a better start is to shelter your spring plantings with season extension devices.

  • Tomatoes and other hot crop transplants will benefit from added warmth
  • Spring greens will also welcome the warmth, especially when sprouting from seed
  • Seedlings susceptible to pests and diseases will gain strength when protected
  • Small plants can be spared the pounding from occasional heavy rains or strong winds (or even hail — we had some a couple of weeks ago)

This Sunday, April 12, 1-2 p.m., I’ll be showing and telling all about season extension at the West Seattle Nursery & Garden Center. I will explain in more detail why these devices help, and then I’ll show off a few of my designs and things sold by the nursery. You can “kick the tires,” so to speak, and think about what might work for you.

Tomatoes in cloche

Putting a cloche over your tomatoes can give them an extra warm start. This is especially important if planting out now. Even though our weather has warmed early, there is still potential for many weeks of cool spring days and chilly nights.

When? Be Conservative

It’s tempting to march out to the garden, clear away last year’s detritus, and just plop everything in the ground — seeds, starts, trellises, cloches. One big afternoon of work and you can just sit back and wait for the harvest, right? Well, maybe. Go ahead and try it. I would counsel patience.

I like to take a couple of steps at a time, slowly building my garden throughout the spring. I do it this way partly because I enjoy the process, and also because things will grow better if planted at the right time. As with so many things, timing is everything.

Right now, my spring greens, root crops and peas are up and growing nicely. I’m still a couple of weeks away from fresh salads, but we’re just finishing the last of the winter salad greens.

Also, I’m clearing and prepping the beds for my hot summer crops. The cover crop and flowering brassicas are coming out, lime is being dug into the soil where needed, and all the old stuff is being chopped up to make compost.

Cover crop being chopped

Cover crop has been chopped down with a hoe (right) and is being dug in with a garden fork (left). This natural fertilizer (green manure) needs two weeks to decompose before planting into it.

Soon I’ll dig in compost and fertilizers, as needed, based on the planting plan.

I continue to plant small quantities of root crops and greens, so that I’ll have a longer continuous harvest of these crops. I eat a lot of them.

What’s Next?

The green manure provided by chopped-in cover crops, and the lime, have to settle into the soil for a week or two before planting. That will bring me to the end of April, which is just about right timing to shake out the bean seeds. Then I’ll think about getting warm-season transplants like tomatoes and peppers in the ground.

By mid-May, those will all be planted, and then I’ll do the last of the summer plantings: squash.

Meanwhile, I am also planning my fall and winter garden. Yes, well before summer has come! By early June, I’ll be planting fall brassicas, and by July, most of my winter and overwintering crops will be in the ground.

All that will be left to plant are short-season fall crops, which will go in after the heat of our summer has dissipated, around late August.

Practice Patience

Mason bee house

Mason bee house

Right now I’m enjoying watching the orchard mason bees. They have emerged from their cocoons and are busy pollinating my fruit trees. Soon they’ll start laying eggs in the holes in my wooden bee house.

If I want to really see all this activity, I need to slow down, and stand or sit near the bee box for a while. (Don’t worry, they’re not aggressive.) My eyes need to adjust to their erratic activity, to see their patterns.

The bees are not working on my schedule. In order to learn from them, I must accustom myself to their ways.

Observance of the natural world takes time. I must take it on its own terms. Growing a vegetable garden also requires relinquishing my own concept of schedules and needs, replacing those with a studied observance of the weather, growth habits of plants, and messages from nature.

Sweet Promises from Fruit in My Edible Yard

Vegetables aren’t the only edibles in my yard. I enjoy growing a variety of fruit, from berries to rhizomatous perennials to fruit trees. Their cheery buds and flowers fill my garden with sweet promises of desserts, jams, ciders and fruit salads to come. Here are more images from the first days of spring.

Sigerrabe grape bud

The Siegerrebe wine grape is breaking bud.

Strawberries in flower

Strawberries are forming flowers and new leaves close to the crown.

Blueberry buds

Buds on the blueberry bushes, with spring ephemeral flowers behind.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is sending out curly new leaves and showing bright red on its fast-growing stalks.

Bartlett Pear

Bartlett pear in flower.

Pear buds

Abundant buds on the Liberty apple tree.

Pear floweres

Exuberant flowers on a pear tree.

pineapple guava

New growth on the pineapple guava, which last year produced two bushels of its tart fruit!

Raspberries

Lush new leaf growth on the raspberry canes.

Plum flowers

Delicate flowers on the Italian plum tree.

Breaking Bud at Spring Equinox

I took a photo break from gardening on yesterday’s sunny Saturday afternoon, the first full day of spring. Here are images from my garden.

Broad Windsor fava flower

Broad Windsor fava beans are just a foot tall, but starting to flower.

Kosmic Kale

A new perennial kale, called Kosmic, was recently introduced by Oregon’s Log House Plants. I like its variegated leaves.

Chablis carrot

Overwintered Chablis carrots are finally starting to sprout some new leaves.

Lacinato kale in flower

Lacinato kale is in full flower. Leave have turned bitter, but I’ll let it stand to feed the early pollinators.

Mustard sprouts

The mustards Ruby Streak and Green Wave sprouted thickly.

Sprouts in the cloche

The spring cloche, planted two weeks ago, shows crammed rows of sprouts, and a couple of bare spots where the seed (probably too old) did not germinate. That’s an opportunity for a second wave of planting.

Bok choy starts

Newly planted bok choy seedlings are being protected under a grid of green fiberglass hoops covered in floating row cover.

Open cold frame

The last of the winter lettuce heads are ready to cut. This cold frame, which has a swiveling front panel, is wide-open for the warm weather.

Lettuce lineup

More mature lettuce from winter. This lineup includes, l-r, Red Velvet, Little Gem, Bronze Arrowhead and Simpson.

Giant Winter Spinach

Giant Winter spinach, also a holdover from the cloche, is ready for cutting, along with its arugula neighbor.

Garlic

Garlic always stands so cheerily above its mulch this time of year.

Champion collard in flower.

Champion collard in flower.

A new asparagus crown is sending up its slender, second-year shoots.

A new asparagus crown is sending up its slender, second-year shoots.

Osaka Purple Mustard

Osaka Purple mustard has been spicing up our salads all spring. Now the leaves are almost too hot.

Purple Sprouting broccoli

It is indeed sprouting season, and the shoots of overwintered Purple Sprouting broccoli is on our table nearly every day.

Sugar Ann snap peas

Sugar Ann snap peas on compact, overwintered vines are still in the cold frame, and already producing.

« Previous Entries