Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hardy Vegetables

 "How're ya doin,' pear?"

A "spring garden" here in Virginia, where we often experience frosts through the end of April, refers to flowers and vegetables that are "hardy" or "moderately hardy."  These plants don't mind getting cold.  Temperatures in the 20s won't cause ice to fill their cells and collapse their cell walls.  (Please, if you would, correct me regarding the chemistry and physiology.)

Another set of plants might be called "winter garden" plants because they put up with pretty much any low temperatures that come their way, such as the garlic we plant in November.  Plant garlic in the spring and you can count on waiting through the next winter before it fully matures.  When we plant garlic in November, we usually don't see much above-ground growth until spring, but I understand the roots are busy underneath, which of course is what most of us like to eat.

"Like oaks and maples and locusts," says Virginia.

Smarty pants.  Maybe I should have defined "garden."

Let's look at the hardy vegetables.  We have a Swiss chard plant that's been growing for 4 years, although this year it seems to have pretty well petered out.  Other plants thriving from last season include spinach, Chinese cabbage, arugula, cilantro, chives, onions, and parsnips. Yesterday's blog entry includes pre-snow pictures of some of these.


Oh, in our garden, you'll find winter wheat, which by definition thrives during the winter so we can bake truly home-made bread the next fall.
I've read that hardy vegetables get hardier with a certain amount of aging -- that if you transplanted a broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage seedling from the warmth of your home or a greenhouse and that very night Jack Frost visited, you might be disappointed, but if the seedling had more time to acclimate you'd be happier.  I think this Early Snowball seemed quite contented this morning, or maybe the name has snowed me.
I understand a relative of this cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, loves a frost, and that the cold will dispel the bitterness of summer-harvested B. Sprouts.  I'm going to try them this fall.

Lettuces practically sunbathe in this kind of weather.
Peas are known to produce better yields after early plantings.

If you plant peas in February, you probably won't see them growing very much the first couple months, but then, all of a sudden, they'll take off.

"What under Earth are those things?" asks Virginia.  "They look like little green Easter bunny ears."

Spinach, my dear.

That's parsley hiding in the corner of a topless cold-frame.  ("Shameless blogger," says Virginia.  "Now what Google searcher's going to find this posting?")

Here's my list of hardy and moderately hardy vegetables:

Hardy:  Pea, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, radish, onion, scallion, leek, garlic, parsnip, Swiss chard.

Moderately Hardy:  Carrot, turnip, rutabaga, beet, potato, celery, parsley, fava bean.

Plant these guys as early as the soil can be worked, then relax and don't fret when the temperatures sink.

As for fruit trees, the trees themselves are hardy, but I don't know about the pear almost-blossom that heads this blog entry or this peach flower, but they're sure darn-tootin' purty.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day Before Snowfall

It's too early for Blackberry Winter, or Dogwood Winter for that matter.  We're expecting snow tomorrow.  Brrr!  Lest we forget, our camera accompanied me around the gardens today.

I think this next guy has the right idea, exactly what I'd try to do if I were stuck on the lawn, considering how temperatures have dropped.
Now for my tasty friends.  (Are the above tasty?  You tell me.)  This next fellow will be ready to pick very soon.
"Stand up straight, onions," says Virginia.
"You, too, peas."
Certain little children I used to know called the immature flowers of these plants, "brocky trees."  This is Radini Broccoli, I'd guess so named because the leaves look a bit like radishes.
Here's some random Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach.
Take a look at wisps of Scarlet Nantes carrots up close. 
Cilantro, lots of it, has volunteered to spice up our salads.  I didn't need to save the coriander.  Want some?
Parsnips look much like cilantro, don't they?
"Eat me, eat me," begged the arugula all winter.  Now some of it is going to seed (flowers first).
"But we have been eating you," we say, "along with this stuff."
Some day we'll use Japanese Quintz fruit for something, although the flowers probably make the plant worthwhile.
 "Don't freeze on us peaches, pretty please!"
"You either, pears!"
"Or you, plums!"
I have to show you this apricot tree -- one tree, two sets of flowers.  Last year it bore fuzzy and smooth fruit, which some pest stole from us.  Which is fuzzy -- red or white?  Which is smooth -- white or red?
All right. Last picture for the day.  This one demonstrates what can happen when I plant a tree far away from my other fruit trees.  I forgot to prune the Hardy Trifoliate Orange.  We may discover whether it's hardy enough.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Today is for Real

A few chicks chirp in the basement.  Darla, a convalescing kid, baahs from the den.  Four flats of tomato and green pepper seedlings snuggle in the dining room, protected from the last frost predicted for the next 10 days.  The usual Boxers Lex and Rosie, and Yogi, our African Gray, doze elsewhere on the first floor.  That's pretty much it for springtime in the farmhouse, not counting 2 humans and a temporarily still collection of stink, elder and lady bugs. 

After planning for several weeks off, this smug gardener spent most of this week inside, having last Friday downloaded an unexpected 330 pages of regulatory gobbledygook from the Federal Reserve. Smug, because his spring garden is almost complete and nicely thriving.  Every morning my cup and I wander around to spot what's new.  All of this would be almost impossible if I had to rush to an 8-6 job.  I'm thankful for the flexibility and glad to be done with the gobbledygook.

Of course, work waits to be done.  I sweated 4 hours last weekend to coat a corner of the field garden with cardboard, newspapers and a few inches of top soil, quite pleased with myself until I looked out my second story office window.  Through binoculars, all that effort looks like a postage stamp.

"Bit by bit," says Virginia.  "That's how anything worth doing gets done."

She's right.  I'll stick with it.  Two months from now, with skill and bit of luck, that postage stamp will have turned into 10,000 square feet ready for planting corn, pumpkins, squash and grains for the animals and hopefully not the deer and groundhogs that tend to chew masterpieces into disappointment. 

The almost empty greenhouse waits for ideas, a syllabus for a fall class deserves attention, and....

"Tomorrow," says Virginia.  "Some things can wait for tomorrow." 

Yeh, I think I'll go see if any more chicks are hatching.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sign Language

Around here, St. Patrick's Day, March 17, is the day to plant potatoes.  That was not to be this year because we had so much rain.  So, two days late,  I planted Kennebecs, Pontiacs, Yukon Golds, Blues, Russets and Cobblers.  Sounds traditional, I know.  I failed to order fingerlings and can't find them locally, which is just as well because my spring garden is pretty packed.

Two days in the 70s took my greenhouse up to 110.  Fortunately, I remembered to open the "windows," so temps promptly fell into the 80s.  I felt for the brassicas.  They couldn't have delighted in the high degrees, so today I freed all but 14 of them.  Finding space for them -- broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage -- was a challenge, since I must save room for the early summer things in May, such as green beans, cucumbers and tomatoes.  For fun, I stuck a few cauliflowers in the bare spots of a winter wheat garden.  I wonder what cauliflower bread tastes like.  If anyone nearby wants any of the suffering 14, come and get 'em.

Neighbors Kenny and Karen stopped by and accepted a tour of the greenhouse and gardens.  Kenny said his father always called Mrs. Watkins down in the valley to find out when to plant because she knew the signs -- the moon, the stars.  She's still there.  I should call her.  That reminds me of a doctor we met who said folks out our way do "crazy" things, such as plant by the signs.  She also said ambulances don't go to our part of the county, although it seems as though we hear sirens every other day as lights flash past our farm.

"Who should we believe?" asks Virginia.

Who indeed?  Most of the peas are up, onions have started poking through, spinach and lettuce are progressing nicely, and today the fava beans popped up.  I'm still waiting for the parsnips and beets.  Reminders of last year are thriving, including garlic, onions, parsnips, kale, arugula, fruit tree blossoms, and of course, strawberries.  Any day now, we might find one of the earliest of delicacies on our table -- asparagus.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bonus Time

My bonus showed up yesterday.
Pretty exciting, just like Citicorp.  The first time I received a bonus it was a complete surprise.  It was never the same.  I mean, once received, expectation enters the picture --  you hope for another one, after a few years you almost count on one, and then, every year you wonder if it'll be bigger than last year's. 

The pile on the left arrived yesterday, the one on the right today.  Now I'm hoping it'll be a daily thing for a while.  The foreman said they'll be trimming limbs for the power company into summertime.

"Greed," says Virginia.  "You're no different from a hedge fund manager."

Yep, it's my hedge fund.  Keep trimming those hedges.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


In 1978 or 1979, my piano instructor at the University of North Carolina, where I attended law school the rest of the day, said, "I envy you.  Whenever you play piano, it's fun.  Whenever I play piano, it's work."

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed digging a few post holes, not all 51.  Last year, after practicing Schumann for 4 months, I looked forward to an hour of sight-reading. A month ago, 2 hours cutting up a hog became the "same old same old."  When we bought Elk Cliff Farm, spading a new garden begged me to buy a tractor.

"Attention deficit disorder," says Virginia.  "Get a life."

I used to like her, or maybe she's kidding.

"You're spoiled," she laughs, "not nearly hungry enough."

That's partly true.  In younger days, punching a time clock was standard operating procedure.  It made no sense to dwell on other ways of using time.  Besides, the life ahead seemed endless.  Unless Kurzweil is right, endless now has an endpoint.

I think it's important to keep trying to number the points in between as almost infinite, so at night one sentence cannot describe the entire day (unless maybe you're a master of long sentences, like Faulkner or Joyce).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Visit to a Portal

I don't know why it took me so long to recognize Tank Hollow as a great running route.  Maybe I was scared away by the bear hunters who gather at its entrance during September dog training and the real thing in December, or maybe it was this:
"What is it?" asks Virginia.

Maybe it's a portal, although I stepped inside and nothing happened, but then, as I walked away, I heard something and had the presence of mind to click.
Whoa!  Running, I shot another...
and again...
before everything went blank.

Monday, March 7, 2011


As suggested in an earlier blog posting, I'm gradually moving our money closer to home.  Funds are on their way, destined for FDIC-insured certificates of deposit.  Current interest rates lead me to wonder if we, as individuals, are being asked to cough up what in effect is more bailout money for struggling banks.  I know there's more to it than that -- the guiding light for traditional banks has long been the "spread," the difference between what banks pay for their money and the amount they charge when they lend it -- but still I'm allowed to wonder...

Anyway, the branch manager at a local bank thought I ought to talk to their investment guy.  I agreed, hoping he'd teach me a thing or two.  Actually, I wanted to see what sort of "experts" wander the nearby countryside.

The visit was worth the half-hour for one reason.  Since I'm hung up on FDIC insurance and not interested in exposing these funds to the vagaries of stock markets or insurance companies (annuities) -- for which he apparently thinks I'm a fool and a stupid fool at that -- he suggested I sign up for the highest yielding CD his bank offers for IRA customers, which happens to be a CD with a term of 5 years or so.  Because I'm approaching the magic age of 59 1/2, if rates go up in a year or two, I could cash it in and move the funds to a higher-yielding CD, with no penalty and no questions asked.

This reminded me of Federal Reserve Regulation D (Reserve Requirements) and a portion of its definition of a time deposit:

(b) Where the depository institution pays all or a portion of a time deposit representing funds contributed to an individual retirement account or a Keogh (H.R.10) plan established pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 408 or 26 U.S.C. 401 or to a 401(k) plan established pursuant to 26 U.S.C. 401(k) when the individual for whose benefit the account is maintained attains age 59 1/2or is disabled (as defined in 26 U.S.C. 72(m)(7)) or thereafter....
"What on earth is the point of that?" asks Virginia.

Well, to make a long story short, a bank doesn't have to hold reserves on time deposits, while it does on many other types of accounts, such as checking accounts.  Higher reserves make those other deposits more costly for the bank.  To keep CDs out of that other category, banks have to impose restrictions on withdrawals -- but not on IRA customers over age 59 1/2.

What I found interesting was the bank's openness regarding its willingness to let me escape my 5-year contract.  Cool.

The young man stepped into a mud puddle before I left.  Trying to coax me into something that would net him a commission, he griped that some financial pundits refer to the 2000s as the "lost decade" and insisted that some investments have averaged 8% per year over that decade.  When I asked for an example, he offered the Income Fund of America.  Uh-oh.  If you're interested, visit and see if you can find that 8% figure.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mending Fences and Mining the Freezer

The new fence appears to be working, fingers crossed.  To get in, the chickens must either fly over or hike 240 feet to the fence's end.  If they take the hike, adding another 10 or 15 feet to close the rectangle will be an easy fix compared to what we've already done.

So yesterday I removed what had become a ratty yellow mess, the mesh fence around the winter wheat.  I could have torn it down, pulled out the stakes and been done with it.  A friend would say I have too much time on my hands for that, which I think puts the cart before the horse.  I like to think I'm past believing my time is better spent in "productive" use when I could pay someone "less than I'm worth" to do this kind of work. I enjoy repetitive, useless endeavors such as removing the metal staples that held the yellow mesh to wooden stakes.  For me, it's meditative, like shelling peas, pulling weeds, and, sometimes, translating regulatory gobbledygook.  Everyone should be paid the same for the work they do.

"Tell me another one," says Virginia.  "You'd gripe about Johnny sitting on his arse all day, except for his smoke breaks every hour or two."

Good point.  Ummm, how about let's appreciate the folks who do well the things we don't want to do by treating them like ourselves and paying them fairly?

Moving on...after shelling a few bushels of peas, what happens to them?  They get buried in our chest freezer and we can't find them.  Last night we attacked that problem.  We unloaded the deep-freeze and repacked everything.  It was like a trip to the grocery store when everything is free.  Pears, apples, strawberries, and raspberries galore!  Sweet corn and peas coming out our ears!  Local lamb, venison, chicken, and goat!  Squash, tomato sauce, sweet peppers, green beans.
I looked at Karen and realized she was running recipes through her head.  Mouth watering, I made a chart of where the ingredients are stored.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Fence Gates and Spring Gardens

Seventeen hand-dug post holes per day for three days were included in my weekly report a couple weeks ago.  Here's a gate Karen made for the fence that's now nearly finished.
"What's this about a weekly report?" asks Virginia.

Just kidding, but remembering my time at Citicorp, when by noon each Friday I had to submit a report to my boss on the amazing things my staff and I had accomplished during the prior week.  My boss had to do the same to his boss, up the ladder to John Reed, the company's chairman.  Follow the weekly report trail and you could determine "how many down" you were from Reed -- "two-down," "three-down," etc.  The lower the number, the more important, right?  Eventually, age or experience persuades most of us how unimportant each of us really is -- to the world or universe as a whole -- and how important we are to ourselves (get sick and observe your default mode).

The spinach I planted February 16 looks like this.
Compare that to the spinach planted last Fall, which is ready to join a salad or stir fry.
Speaking of the past, check out this parsnip planted last year.
Here's some oak leaf lettuce planted February 19,
 and some of its brothers and sisters in the greenhouse.
Stretching things a little further, take a look at future super sugar snap peas of Elk Cliff, planted March 5, 2011.
"How thrilling," Virginia mutters.

No, I didn't soak them overnight or "inoculate" them, which seems like too much trouble.  They'll get soaked by the rain we're expecting.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Real

Back at 10-12 hour days explaining gobbledygook, a few things pull me back to the real.

1. Goat babies.  This is birthing time at the homestead.  Poppy delivered a boy and a girl yesterday, and today Luti dropped 2 boys and a girl.  Fresca's probably next.  Luti's the boss of the barnyard.  If she wants something, she gets it or takes it. The way she has babies says it all.  She stands quietly and nibbles hay between pushes, without a single holler. She could have been Dr. Lamaze's inspiration.  Like all of our goats, Luti's boys will be named and much-loved every day of their lives, even though they're destined for a freezer.  Luti will charge on, no matter what.

2. Running and walking.  Today was a zero running day.  Instead, I walked with Karen, Lex and Rosie,  around and around our field.  The dogs love the .69 mile square and so do I.  If I carried a camera, I could always find something worth shooting on each side of that square -- for a start, pointed peaks, crisp creek, rolling river, pretty plants, and pleasing plantation. Ferry Field, a name given the ground underneath our feet, is the site of an encampment during that War of the Rebellion or War for Southern Independence, depending on point of view.  Each year, someone shows up with a metal detector to dig for relics.

3.  Gardening.  If I don't move dirt, I inspect it, checking to see if any new friends have appeared or changed.  Tomato and onion seeds continue to hide in starting trays in the greenhouse, while the early bird brassicas -- cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli --  seem pleased in their pots.  Ten varieties of lettuce are on the verge of salad dressing, maybe for our guests next week.  Outside, spinach seeds have sprouted.  Peas and onion sets play hard to get.  Last year's parsnips are greening up.  Maybe they're grateful for more time.  I've cracked open the coldframe for its baby lettuces.  The fruit trees and grapevines wait patiently for grooming; do they know the best time to prune is when there's time to prune?

4. Dining.  Yes, I like to dine.  Rarely -- today was one of those days, my gourmet chef wasn't in the mood -- I stir things up in the kitchen, this evening a well-balanced diet of cornbread and brownies.  We tossed the cornbread with our home-made maple syrup.  It's standard practice to use food we find on the homestead, but certain things, such as maple syrup, are especially extra special.  We still have a couple buckets hanging on the maples.  The goats drink those buckets bare.

5.  Music.  Even if it doesn't play, music's there, milling my mind.  On my way home from Ohio last week, a CD found in my parents' collection introduced me to Yma Sumac, a Peruvian singer born the year of my parents, 1922, who could sing -- she died in 2008 -- like a man or higher than a coloratura.  Some of her songs filled my head as I pieced Regulation Z changes into an update due next week.

"You worry me," says Virginia, "spending so much time on unimportant things."