Strolling Toward Spring

I’ve been digging kitchen compost into the garden periodically over the winter.  Mostly it’s coffee grounds, eggshells, and vegetable trimmings.  It’s been fun to go there with a purpose, dig a trench and dump what would otherwise go out in the garbage or down the disposal (yes, cringe).  I’ve found that it works well when I systematically cover the whole garden.  

Taking the shovel back to the shed, I saw a tomato plant with two ripe tomatoes from last fall. They looked remarkably edible yet…

Yesterday when I went, there was a crow with nesting material in its mouth perched on a fencepost.  I couldn’t get a photo, but the crow made me alert and I noticed what had to be a whole flock of robins pecking around the dormant gardens and periodically coming up with a worm or a grub.  I couldn’t get good pictures of them, either, having only the phone with me. Other birds making appearances were song sparrows, blue jays, and a mockingbird that thinks it is king of the garden…

The robins were scurrying on the ground and rarely showing their orange breasts when still.

I checked things while I was there.  The peas have not come up yet.  Jane gave me some water jugs she had cut the bottoms off and they make fabulous cloches for larger plants.

I had the thought to put my foot in for scale, but most of you likely don’t know the size of my feet and do know the size of water cooler bottles.

She also gave me the bottoms, figuring I’d find some use for them.   Currently, what with days varying from upper forties (F) to the low seventies, I’ve propped the cold frame open with them as I continue to enjoy the lettuce.

Other signs of spring were the garlic planted late last fall, that came up and suffered through three snows,

The garlic is in a line in the middle of the photo. Iris on the left and a couple stray alliums on the right.

A rabbit convinced I could not see it,

At first I thought the rabbit was trapped, but it wasn’t; I walked around the other side to check. It was just being a typical, bold as brass Lagomorph…

My favorite spring flower,

And some very cheerful daffodils.

Best wishes for a good week!

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Three Walks and Some Wildlife

I’ve had three good walks recently at local parks, two of them on relatively warm days between blasts of cold and the last one on a brisker, more wintry day.  My friend Jane emailed about a walk and suggested Turkey Run, which I’ve written about before.  I hadn’t been there for a couple years, so I was glad to go.

I suggested we stay on the upland paths because between the snow, rain and some flooding, the river paths I’ve walked recently have been worthy of wellies or at the very least, waterproof hiking boots.

I hesitated to put this in, as it doesn’t do Jane justice, but it shows the upland forest nicely. For better pictures of Jane, see who gets a band at their retirement or her chronicle of bicycling across Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

Ultimately, we decided to go toward the river down a feeder stream to get a better photo of the white sycamores, the green water, and the blue sky.  The path, however, got narrow, precipitous, and slippery.  Jane, being younger, and a former Marine, was willing to have a go, but I was not willing to fall into a rocky stream if I slipped in mud. (I’ve got a whole tale for another time about a recent tumble doing something injudicious.)

Look past the near branches to the ghostly sycamores on the other shore. We never did get to the clearer picture…

Still, our explorations brought us upon an old fence line with odd concrete posts and what we could only think was some sort of survey activity in the park.  Or treasure hunting.  Who knows?

Next my friend Paul emailed, back from a road trip and asked if I was up for a walk.  I suggested the Maryland side of Great Falls for a walk on the upland paths in the woods, which are far less peopled than the river paths, and which I don’t hike alone.  He was game, and when we got out there, he said he’d never been on the Maryland side.  So I had to show him the falls, which look different from the Virginia side.

The river drops 80 feet in the space of a mile.

The Potomac River Gorge is one of the most geologically diverse places on earth because of its position along the Fall Line between the Piedmont Plateau and the Atlantic Coastal Plain.  The park contains at least 60 rare plant and animal species and explodes with wildflowers in the spring.  What we and others noticed right away was an extraordinary number of Black Vultures.  They are always here, soaring on thermals, but this was … a lot of vultures…

There were more vultures than shown here. This is just a sample.

The vultures were sitting in trees and on rocks as well as soaring above in groups.  Once we reached my favorite little beach area, we were able to conclude that it was breeding season, or as Paul quipped, the vultures were speed dating.

This vulture was waiting for its date…

We enjoyed the calm of the little beach and then headed into the woods, which gave us another view from the bluffs.  I can never be at Great Falls without experiencing the sense of a river “cut by the world’s great flood [that] runs over rocks from the basement of time.” [Norman Maclean, in A River Runs Through It]

Here you can see where I get the “beach” idea from…
Since all my companions are tortured with a cameo, I didn’t think I should allow myself to slide out of the picture entirely, though I did try.

The third walk was with my friend Carolyn at Roosevelt Island, which is within walking distance of my house.  One of the clergy at my church started offering a service there on Sunday at noon during the worst of the pandemic so a few people could get together in person safely outside.  Today was the first day people could actually go back to the church in person since Omicron swept in, but Carolyn drove over to my neighborhood and we walked down and met up with the wilderness church crew.  

The water was beautiful and sparkling.

It was lovely, as nature is really the best cathedral.  Afterward, we walked the boardwalk through the marsh, coming upon a group of Mallards going about their ducky business.

We circled around, back to the bridge to the Virginia shore and admired the beautiful day and the sparkling water.

Carolyn looking toward Georgetown.

And now I’m back home, hoping to catch up with you all through your latest posts.  Best of late February to everyone!

Past the sycamore ghost trees, you can see the spires of Healy Hall, and nestled beneath Key Bridge, the Potomac Boathouse.
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Not Gardening, Just Prepping

I’ve been doing a lot of spring planning.  Some of it has been for my own garden and some of it has been for the Plot Against Hunger.  I’ve ordered seeds and some supplies (stakes, fencing, tomato insulators, cloches for young plants, etc.) and will start tomatoes, peppers and eggplants inside.  I think all my seeds are coming from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  If you live in Zone 7 or below, this is one of the best sources of seeds bred for heat, humidity, and the pests that frequent the Mid-Atlantic and south.

My rosemary bush has some cold-nipped branches, but everything else looks pretty good and will resurge with some warmth.

Today I went to the garden (it was sunny and mid-40s) and finished off some things I hadn’t been able to get to in the fall and cleared out the broccoli and cauliflower plants.  In a winter where it’s cold but we don’t have snow or freezing rain, these plants will keep making new heads and florets after the initial cutting.  This year, as you know, we’ve had three separate snows.

I cleared some zinnias that were dried up, dead, and dark brown, some Jerusalem artichokes I’d left for their lovely late flowers, and did a little weeding.  Then I tidied up all the fencing for reuse in the spring.  I’ll get an early crop of resurgent parsley and cilantro once it starts to warm, and there should be some really early carrots.  Meanwhile, I have lettuces in my cold frame.

I’ve been eating these, avoiding packaged greens.

In the Plot gardens, I trimmed the asparagus plants back, as they were green late into the fall and need to be cut back after they brown.  I pulled the cauliflower and broccoli plants from the enclosure in the larger Plot, did a little weeding and trimmed up the blackberry canes a bit.  Now I have a better idea of the kind of support I need to add for them as well.

There will be larkspur among the asparagus spears this year.

I’ve been helping a Plot committee do some focus groups to help plan the coming year.  It’s a big operation, starting with giving seeds to some gardens, having some volunteer gardeners start seeds for in-demand produce, organizing a spring kick-off with tool exchanges, panels of expert gardeners, and assorted other things.  Plot basically has gardeners who donate produce, volunteers who bag produce for local food pantries, and a cadre of tough people who harvest farm crops, primarily from USDA’s experimental farms and a few local orchards.  This can be hot, hard work in the summer and also involves bulk deliveries to warehouses that then get the word out to pantries to come get what they need.

Things look pretty good here and I now have a better idea of fencing and support for the crazy blackberry in the back.

I’ve been doing other things as well—walking with friends among nearby parks and trails, seeing signs of impending spring.  There are more birds and some migraters coming through and the squirrels are chasing each other madly around tree trunks.  All in good time.

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Time, Distance, and New Snow

Seed catalogs are coming in fast.  They’re fat and colorful and full of tempting things, and they make me realize I need to start planning my garden tout de suite.  I don’t need much, as I save seeds, but there are always surprises when I look at my seed stores and the garden plan.

These are just the beginning.

Having spare time has opened again the possibility of writing more extensively.  Back in 2011, I decided the blog would be my creative outlet and I stopped writing poetry and fiction.  Mostly, I did this because my paid work and volunteer activities around food access crowded out the creative spark.  Also, if you write fiction and want to publish it, the shopping around process takes a certain kind of energy and mindset I didn’t have at the time.

All the projects–reading, writing, sewing…

I’d been feeling I might have the creative mental space back, so I looked at my work.  There are 15 poems, one of them published; five short stories, two published; two short stories in process; one novel, complete, but likely in need of rewriting; and one novel in its second draft.  

That scarlet color is wild berry canes, spotted on a walk on Roosevelt Island.
I wasn’t able to capture the color well, but saw them more than once.

I have always thought one of the short stories could be a screenplay but have never learned what is entailed in that process.  The completed novel would likely be more marketable if I killed off one of the characters and changed the arc of the story.  And the novel started and in the second draft reveals a problem I have with focus.

You can see the color a little better in this one

Most of my fictional characters come to me in a particular situation or with a particular attitude.  I write things that illuminate them, not always in the order of the story and not always pertinent to the story.  As a result, I wind up with excess, off-point scenes and a LOT of words in novels.  Two writer friends, recognizing this problem, gave me books that addressed it years back.  One is called Structuring Your Novel and the other is called The Moral Premise.  The latter is about screenwriting, but just as applicable to story arc in a novel.  I’ve decided to read them both, do the exercises and proceed, if possible, with the newer novel.  With all the distance from the creative writing, I was able to see and accept what I was doing wrong when I dipped again into Structuring Your Novel. 

It was a nice day to be out for a walk and see sparkling water.

As I write today, it’s snowing again and I’m enjoying it.  Overnight it will turn into wintry mix, ice, and then rain.  Tomorrow is supposed to be well above freezing, so I hope people stay in tonight and the stuff melts fast.  Earlier, I took some video of it, but it’s relatively silent.

It’s snowing even harder now. I’m glad it will be dark when the wintry mix starts.

I’ll stay in and have a few shortbread and some hot tea…

There used to be stars as well, all eaten because they were smaller…
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Yesterday, I was harvesting cilantro, broccoli, cauliflower, and parsley from the garden.  It was over 60 degrees, and I wasn’t even wearing a jacket.

Doesn’t look like January 2, does it?

Today, I woke up to this.

Snow was clinging to the screen and coming down at a good clip.

It was snowing crazily, almost a whiteout without wind.  The predictions had changed over the course of the day from 2-5 inches to 4-7 inches to 6-10.  In my neighborhood, we seem to have received somewhere between 6 and 6 ¼ inches.

I measured.

I love seeing snow.  Especially this wet heavy stuff that makes branches look like a fairy world.

That’s a downed branch lower center, from the redbud. Still, it looks pretty magical.

Unfortunately, it’s also caused a few branches to fall.  I noticed one from a white pine, one from a holly and one from the redbud down the courtyard.

This Japanese Maple still had leaves, unfortunately. It seems flexible, though.

I cleaned my car off but did no shoveling, as I think I can just drive out of 6 inches.  And this stuff is heavy and very wet, which is mostly what we get here.  The last time I shoveled the car out I had to remind myself that I was no longer 35.  It’s likely that with temps well above freezing in the next few days that it will melt soon.  If I’d believed the forecast last night, I might have moved the car into the County garage, but…

Because the snow was so wet and the streets have not been plowed, traffic is creating an icy road base for the evening.

It’s so nice to see, and so rare (it’s been a few years since we had anything much in the way of a snowstorm) that I’ll likely have another walk in it today. 

Wishing you your own early-year magic, whatever that might be!

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Watching the Hawk Watch

One of the things I like about my neighborhood is that wildlife presents itself for the alert passer-by.  I was in my living room when I noticed some people walking up the steps toward the shops.  The man looked up and then turned back to look up again.  I walked to the window, curious, and saw this perched on a limb above what is often a squirrel playground…

It looks like a young Red Tail to me, given its head color and breast, which you’ll see later.
You lookin’ at me?
Well, you should know I have superpowers…

The funny thing is that several other people walked by and never looked up.  I have seen foxes, coyotes, deer, raccoons, opossums, and all manner of birds I never expected to see in town (pileated woodpeckers, for instance) just by looking around.

This bird had its eyes peeled.
Pesky human still looking at me…

I love seeing the big hunters because I know they will keep the rodent population down.  That seems to be what this little guy was looking for—some chipmunks or mice in the ivy.  I hope he or she (I can’t sex juvenile hawks) finds something tasty before the afternoon is over.  What a treat for a grey day—and thanks to the alert neighbor for sending me a clue to look out.

Ah, well. No chippies. May as well look elsewhere…
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A Park Discovery

A couple weeks ago, on a visit to one of the end of year art and craft exhibits, I discovered a new place for walks.  I had been to Fort CF Smith before, as it is a favorite place for art exhibits.  However, I had always been with a friend and thus distracted from the landscape, usually by someone who wanted to leave immediately after seeing the exhibit.

This time, when I exited the house, I looked down a swathe of lawn and realized I needed to check the place out.  It’s only a five-minute drive from my home.  

I learned that there was a short trail, and I went back the next day to check it out.  The land itself is high ground above the Potomac and the Fort was one of a number that formed a defense of the Capitol during the Civil War.

The walk is a lovely, wooded loop above the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  What a nice array of trees it has:  tulip poplar, beech, white and pin oaks, hickory, and –bonus of bonuses—there is a paw paw patch!  Heh, heh, one more place to discover good eating in the fall…

There is also a landscaped area that is more park-like and I enjoyed that as well, with its Japanese maple leaves mixing with golden Gingko.  

I also saw this, a Camellia of some sort (sinensis?), and I had to stop and enjoy it for a few minutes.

I’ll be back here when I need a short wooded get-away to clear my head.  Having such a breath of fresh air so close is a great gift.

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Whew… Exhale

Hello fellow bloggers!  It’s been another wild ride of a year at work and in the garden, but I finally retired in September and … nothing much changed with me getting blogs posted.  I did, however, get my bicycle fixed, paint the hall, living room, and bedroom, deep clean for the winter, clear out clothing that is unlikely ever to fit again, and in general get at items on a two year old list while decompressing from the world of work.

Here is the winter garden–lettuces and spinach in the cold frame…

It’s been fabulous.  The first two weeks, I giggled a lot when I realized I didn’t have to go back to work.  I’ve been enjoying a whole variety of things:  seeing friends more frequently for more long walks, hikes, or just coffee; putting the garden to bed over a few hours a day during the week, rather than four hours a day over two weekend days; discovering new parks and places to walk locally; and having conversations without having the next thing to do in the back of my mind.  

A week or so in, I remembered my father after he retired telling me that he had started sleeping nine hours a night and saying “I don’t think I was getting enough sleep all those years.”  I was doing the same thing.  And believe me, I already knew I wasn’t getting enough sleep.  I have serious night owl tendencies and often get a second wind around the time I should be going to bed, but I was still getting up and getting online on time.

So, sleep, friends, exercise, and the pleasures of my own schedule.  Tonight I’m starting a course on how to take video for news stories; I’ve already taken a course in radio broadcast.  Not sure what I’m going to do with these things, but I’ve always wanted to know how they’re done.  I’ll keep growing food for the Plot Against Hunger and gardening in general, so I’m hoping to be a little more regular with my posts and visits.

View from the back–there’s always another garden to start–in a few months!
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The Garden Thrives

I was in the garden last week getting some trumpet vine shoots out of the rosemary bush and saw a bird’s nest in there!  What a treat!  I never knew any young’uns were raised there.  They had a parent with nerves of steel, because nothing ever flew out when I brushed by on my way in.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a nest this close.

Both gardens—my own and Plot Against Hunger—are doing fairly well given the weird extremes of temperature and rainfall we’ve had.  In the large Plot garden, the blackberries are amazing and there has been—I continue to cross my fingers—very little bird feasting.  I will be taking several pints to the pantry on Monday.

These are some of the sweetest blackberries I’ve had.

My summer and winter squashes are doing well—with blossoms and tiny squash coming on.

This isn’t all of them–I have not taken the best photos of the garden lately.

The tomatoes seem to be thriving (they love the heat).

Three quite large tomatoes developing here, and some nice Italian pear tomatoes as well coming on. I’m visualizing some lovely salads and tasty pasta sauce.

The basil is doing well and the oregano is blooming (yes, I should have been trimming it, but…) and serving the bees.

I’m looking forward to getting melons from this—the Edisto Mystery melon, which along with my cucumbers, also seems to be spreading its shoots.

I’m hoping this melon is mysteriously good, but I will be ordering some covers for the fruits to keep away the critters.

Tuesday, I’ll be taking my new car on its first long road trip—all the way to Illinois to see my family—whom I’ve not seen for 18 months.  It’s good to be breaking out and going places and ditching the masks.  Still, I’ve been watching our brethren in the southern hemisphere, hoping things go well there, because what happens in their winter is likely to be predictive for us.

The car looks fierce and sturdy in this picture.

To end on a better note—I’m expecting zinnias soon, and currently have the crazy seed pods of Nigella damascenes to enjoy.

I love these things and am happy to see that bits of yarrow are holding their own among the Nigella.

Have a fabulous week!

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Gardens, Cicadas, and Evil Lagomorphs

It has been so long since I wrote that I feel a bit sheepish, but I want to start again.  Something happened at the height of the pandemic here that translated to just too much screen time and I dropped out for the most part, but missed the community and visited sporadically.  Now I want to start writing again—there’s still a lot to write about—and periodic cicadas are one of them!

Depending on where you live, you may or may not have heard of these.  There are a number of them, separated into broods and the brood where I live in northern Virginia is Brood X, which appears every 17 years.  The adult cicadas 17 years ago flew up into the trees where they bred and laid eggs; their larvae dropped to the ground and burrowed down to the tree roots, where they suckled for 17 years before digging their way back up to transform again.  This can make it look as though your lawn has been aerated.

They molt, leaving these empty shells all over the place and they make an amazing sound.

Those big adults are a bit like WWII bombers.  They fly, but really slow and they don’t have maneuvers, so it’s best to get out of the way if one flies at you. There are apparently three species of Brood X, but I have only seen one in my area.

The cicadas are good for the garden.  The birds are so full of them, they haven’t eaten the mulberries, cherries, and blackberries they normally gobble down, meaning…I have gotten mulberries and hope to get blackberries.

I’ve been gardening this year both for myself and for the Plot Against Hunger.  My Plot volunteer, Holly, had the idea to plant the three sisters this year—corn, with beans growing up the corn, and squash underneath.  Because of evil rabbits, we had to fence the three sisters in.

We also had to replant okra, cover it with chicken wire (rabbits love okra sprouts), and cover the blueberry plants as well.  Not only did the rabbit eat the blueberries, it also ate the leaves off the bush.  Then it started on the pepper plant and the eggplants.  Luckily we’re getting an infusion of eggplants in a week or so.  I’ll fence those.

My fellow gardener Mike and I took 8.3 pounds of lettuce to the food pantry last week using lettuce from my garden and a couple other gardeners who had a glut.  

My own garden has had rabbit depredation as well, but I think things will recover as time goes on.  I have summer and winter squashes, tomatoes, peppers, okra (covered for now), a melon, cucumber, and flowers and herbs.  I’m looking forward to what the growing season may bring (likely more fences) and to telling you about it. 

Have a good week!

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