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Guest garden and hodgepodge

March 18, 2012

St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally the day to plant peas. Some years we look at the frozen ground and admit defeat, and some years we pull back the winter garden cover of salt marsh hay and manure and plant those little peas with hope and trepidation, knowing an errant deep freeze might well force a re-sowing. This year I hoed and planted with bravado, betting on this winterless winter’s whimpering exit. I planted 40-feet of snap peas and snow peas; half for us and half for guests.

Edible-pod peas tend to be both very prolific and very early. While waiting for warm-weather vegetables to grow, flower and fruit, the peas are months ahead and offer the chance to gather when little else is ready for harvest. They can withstand some dips of the mercury, and I have seen snow peas make good on their moniker living through small spring snowfalls. This year I decided to make use of a garden I let go fallow for the last two years. Our last harvest in this far-flung plot was Russian fingerling potatoes, and though it was a successful planting, I grew weary of battling the tenacious Japanese knotweed that grows there.

lush cabbage seedlings under grow lights

Knotweed or not, I just couldn’t let that piece of dark, fish-fed soil remain unproductive for another season. I had the idea to plant a guest garden for summer visitors, as the garden is adjacent to the guest house. I was thinking it would be a nice gesture to offer a little patch of food for visiting family and friends, and right on the heels of my benevolent thought was another idea: the guest garden might keep guests out of my garden. Now, why does a selfish thought have to worm its way into my noble plans? I like the idea of a gift of fresh, ready-to-pick food, produced by a little hard labor, a little good weather, a little luck and daily tending. We’ll go with that, while also noting that guests are here for weekends generally and a week on occasion, but the majority of the time I’ll be picking the produce and reaping the rewards of my labor. There I go again…

These Japanese mustard greens look almost ready to eat!

I plan to put in some low-maintenance veggies: peas, cherry tomatoes, summer squash, cucumbers, pole beans, mini eggplant, and a block of salad greens. My concept of a postage-stamp garden to match the postcard property expanded before my eyes as I worked at reclaiming the neglected plot. Still, at 900-square-feet or so, it should be a manageable endeavor if I can keep the ducks out. Butchering will reduce that risk in the coming days, and I will only have to worry about daily watering and weeding out the knotweed shoots. I’m starting cabbages, spinach, and purple mustard greens under grow-lights, and they are more than ready to be transitioned to the outdoors. I think we have enough to satisfy our own needs and share some with the guest garden.

Getting down and dirty in the garden soil was refreshing and signified the beginning of the growing season. In some beds it seemed the last growing season never ended. We are still, impossibly, pulling carrots from the garden. They’re starting to send up new tops, so I need to pull them all out, but it seems to be a bottomless cup of carrots. I have 30-feet of carrots still in the ground. There was some bad gardening involved there, as thinning got away from me, but we’ve been hitting them pretty hard since last fall and the bed just keeps on giving. While we’ve had strange shapes and little nubs, the ridiculously close-spaced carrots have provided a lot of food. I harvested two-pounds of carrots from a two-foot section on St. Patrick’s Day. I think there’s going to be some Tunisian pumpkin and carrot soup going into the freezer this week, among other things.

Spending time in the garden revealed some other gifts and surprises. The leeks are a gift. I didn’t grow them in this plot last year, focusing instead on red, white and yellow bulb onions. The flower heads I let mature for seed-saving tossed a few on the ground and they slowly did the hard work on their own.

beer bottle cap for perspective

I discovered a surprisingly gigantic black Spanish radish that escaped harvest and spent the winter getting huge. Now I’m wondering if giant radish could be a unique culinary treasure. On the other hand it could be woody or spongy or filled with worms or otherwise gross. This specimen is so large I couldn’t bring myself to pull and slice it. I want to see what else it does before inevitably removing it to cultivate for new planting.

While there is still food out there for us to collect, the honeybees are in need of sustenance. A warm winter means lots of flying days in which  bees break from the winter cluster and head out to relieve themselves and look for water, nectar and pollen. With the long stretches of days over forty-degrees, the bees have been out in force, but there is very little pollen and nectar available for them. Chances are good that stores of honey are running low in the hives, especially if the colony was not overly strong last summer. Colonies that were newly established last summer, or suffered swarms, pests like hive beetles, re-queening, or heavy robbing of honey by beekeepers are most at risk of starving in late winter. We sometimes freeze extra deep supers of honey as an insurance policy if conditions require feeding, figuring if the bees still have stores in the spring we can extract. These frozen frames also offer a fast way to build up a hive when we capture a swarm. Ten years into the beekeeping hobby we’ve never extracted honey from frames stashed in the freezer – there has always been a colony that needed them. I think we have about ten frames, or 80- to 90-pounds of honey, in the freezer now,  and it will be given to the bees, with some reserved for future captured swarms. In the meanwhile I’m feeding the bees organic cane sugar syrup and they are consuming it fast. If the weather continues to be unusually mild we could see early blooming of nectar sources, and it could be a very productive season for the bees. I’m thinking of adding a couple more nucleus hives and hoping to catch any swarms we find. Who knows, maybe there will be honey for the guests as well.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan Baker Outslay permalink
    March 19, 2012 8:55 am

    Your blogs are so well written and filled with interesting information! Thanks for writing them!

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