Archive for February, 2012

Spring Has Come To Our Windowsill

With a little preparation you can have spring in February.

With a little preparation you can have spring in February.

The hyacinths I forced have come into full bloom and the fragrance is intoxicating.   The Amaryllis that spent the summer in the garden have also begun to bloom.  I pot up the Amaryllis from their row in the vegetable garden as soon as they are touched by the first light frost and put them in the cellar for about eight weeks, watering sparingly, to let them rest.  I then move them into the sun as soon as a hint of growth appears.  The Hyacinth’s glory is brief but the Amaryllis will keep sending up flower stalks for many weeks.

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Make Sure Your Nestboxes are Ready for Spring

This box is for Bluebirds but we don't have the right situation for them so I use a hole restrictor to keep out House Sparrows and allow Chickadees to use it.

This box is for Bluebirds but we don’t have the right situation for them so I use a hole restrictor to keep out House Sparrows and allow Chickadees to use it. You just screw it over the hole to reduce the size.

I was checking my nest boxes yesterday, doing a little last-minute cleaning up in preparation for spring.  The birds are beginning to sing and some are pairing up so it can’t be long until they begin house hunting.  As I checked the box on the pine tree, used for the past few years by chickadees, it came off in my hand.  The back had been eaten out by carpenter ants.  I had a new box in waiting and we changed over the metal hole restrictor to that new one and replaced the box on the tree.  It’s important to use the right sized hole restrictor for the birds for whom you are hoping to be landlord.  Although the chickadees nest in a bluebird box, the hole is too big and house sparrows can get in and kill the entire family.  Bluebirds need a 1  1/2″ opening and chickadees a 1  1/8″ opening.  It may not seem like much but it makes a difference in their nesting success.  These copper hole restrictors are available on-line or at many nature centers for just a couple of dollars.  A wire mesh platform in the bottom of the box helps protect the young from blowflies.

The wire mesh in the bottom helps keep the young safe from blowflies

The wire mesh in the bottom helps keep the young safe from blowflies

With all this help it's a wonder the job ever got done!

With all this help it’s a wonder the job ever got done!

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PARSNIPS-Fresh from the Garden in the Dead of Winter

After the Covering of Leaves is Removed, Look for the Green Leafy Tops, then Gently Ease Them from the Soil to Avoid Damage

After the Covering of Leaves is Removed, Look for the Green Leafy Tops, then Gently Ease Them from the Soil to Avoid Damage

If you want to eat fresh garden vegetables all winter, you should try planting parsnips.  Their sweet, ivory colored, carrot-like roots provide vitamin C and some iron to our meals.  The winter has been snow free here in shoreline Connecticut but even a layer of snow is no deterrent to enjoying them.  Snow serves to insulate the soil keeping it at around 32 degrees, and if the row is well insulated with a thick cover of leaves, they are easy to dig up in all but the most frigid weather.  The flavor only improves as they become sweeter after the frost hits them.  As the winter wears on, the cores may become woody, but you can remove the cores if that happens.

All Cleaned Up and Ready to Use

All Cleaned Up and Ready to Use

Preparation is simple.  I peel them, slice them up like carrots and add them to chicken and turkey soups, and there are recipes galore for Parsnip Soup.  They make a nice addition to a combination of oven roasted whole winter vegetables.  Our favorite is to slice the peeled parsnips into quarter-inch slabs and saute them in butter until they are tender, browned and caramelized.

Here is another easy preparation a Swiss friend showed me:

Roasted Parsnip Sticks

Peel parsnips and slice them into match sticks about 1/2″ wide and 4″ long, allowing about 1 1/2 cups per serving.  Toss with olive oil and place in a shallow open oven proof pan.  Cook in a 400º oven for about 20 minutes, tossing frequently until the pieces are golden brown and slightly crusty.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

This Slab Preparation Couldn't be Easier

This Slab Preparation Couldn’t be Easier

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Time to Start the Onion Seeds

A Friend Sent Me These Seeds As a Surprise

A Friend Sent Me These Seeds As a Surprise

If I want robust onion plants to set out in April (the time where the soil has dried out enough for planting here in Connecticut) I need to start the seeds now.  There are two other ways beside seeds to get onions from your garden: onion sets, which are tiny little onions, and onion plants, both of which are planted directly into the soil in the spring.  I’ve tried sets and they don’t keep well into the winter for me.  Plants were my method of choice but they’ve gotten expensive.  I tried seeds last year and was rewarded with scads of onions that kept until I ran out of them.  Onion seeds can be planted directly into the garden, but here they are best started ahead of time.

We live on an old onion farm, the proud site where the Southport Globe Onion was developed in the 18thCentury.   I am going to try planting some of those seeds, along with one named Copra, my usual variety.  A friend sent me a packet of the Southport Globe as a surprise and I am excited to try to grow it here again.  I think the old farmer who built our house would be pleased.

Plant Two Seeds In Each Hole

Plant Two Seeds In Each Hole

I have a couple of 128 section planting flats with plastic dome covers.  I fill them with organic sterilized potting soil (available in big box garden centers) and plant two seeds per hole as the packet promises only 75% germination.  The rule of thumb in planting seeds is that they are planted at twice the depth of the size of the seed.  After firming the soil over the seeds, I put them under grow lights in the cellar on a heating mat.  This isn’t necessary as I started all my seeds on a radiator or a sunny warm window ledge for years before I treated myself to this extravagance.

As soon as the green shoots start appearing, remove the cover as there is a fungal disease called “damping off” that can fell all the little plants in a day, if they are too wet.

UPDATE:  April 10th, they are almost large enough to transplant into the garden

UPDATE: April 10th, they are almost large enough to transplant into the garden

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