May flowers

Top left is a Banshee rose from High Country Roses. I bought it along with a Madame Hardy (not blooming yet) and a Graham Thomas. The Graham Thomas grew huge, then vining, then bloomed with beautiful pink flowers. Since this is a shrub rose with yellow flowers, I got in touch with the company and they were super nice (and very surprised! We had fun speculating about what my mystery rose is.) They shipped me a new Graham Thomas straight away. I’m looking forward to seeing that next spring, but there are plenty of blooms to count on this year as well.

The chive blossoms came out just before the roses, around the end of April. Every time I see them I think I need more of them. I’ve been reading that some people use them to visually complement their roses, and also as a natural pest repellent. Perhaps I’ll sow a bunch of it around Mme Hardy. She sure takes a beating in that department.

Spring Ephemerals

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My biology class took a wildflower walk on Trout Lily Trail today, a fairly easy path in Panther Creek State Park. It’s a good time to spot spring ephemerals, the flowers that take advantage of our deciduous forests to get a super quick bloom time in the spring before the trees leaf out. This trail is known for being loaded with them. Among the many, many flowers we spotted are the bloodroot above.

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I am such a fan of Dutchman’s breeches. The name really just makes it, don’t you think?

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Spring beauty, tiny little fragrant flowers among the first to pop out.

Hopefully I’ll get a chance to go back for better pictures of the twin leaf, bluets, trout lilies, trillium, wild phlox, and toothwort. Also saw a few I don’t know (yet.)

Daffodils

I got all excited about flowers last year and bought these rare daffodils (my very favorite). They’re double headed, which I’ve never grown. The paler one is called Eggs and Bacon, or Orange Phoenix, the yellowish one is called Butter and Eggs, and that hyacinth is Marie. They all came from the Old House Gardens, just like my crocuses from earlier this year. So far I’ve had great success with their bulbs.

I realized this spring, though, I should have also done a big sweeping planting of regular old daffodils somewhere around here. That always makes me super happy. I guess I should just add that one to the wish list.

 

 

First flowers!

It’s definitely a pick-me-up to see flowers at this dreary time of year. These are cloth of gold and vanguard crocuses. I think I need about 500 more. Can’t you just imagine the whole yard bathed in them in February? And they’re gone before it’s time to start mowing, so I could just stick them everywhere. The bees would like it, too.

Bill Best Seed Swap in Berea, KY and the Berea Farmer’s Market 10/5/13

 
I drove up to Berea, KY for the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Seed Swap, headed by local farmer/seed saver Bill Best, author of Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste: Heirloom Seed Savers In Appalachia. It was really cool to talk to the people selling and swapping seeds. I learned the history behind Orinoco tobacco (originally grown by John Rolfe of Jamestown) and got Egyptian Walking Onions, a perennial onion that reseeds itself, as well as Hickory Cane meal corn to make cornmeal and grits. I also got quite a few old varieties of beans. The Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center specializes in beans and sells seed from the website as well. 
 
 
 
The seed swap was pretty early in the morning, so I still had time to catch the local farmers market. I’m so glad I did. I picked up chestnuts and pawpaws from one vendor and we talked at length about growing trees, advising each other on pruning, chestnut worms, and everything else we knew a little about. I bought Asian pears, carrots, and raspberries from the enthusiastic students at the Berea Ag booth. And finally, I bought bread from a wonderful older couple, chatting with the gentleman about their methods of soaked grain baking. His wife was Ukrainian and spoke very little English, but as I was leaving she pulled a cockscomb flower from her bouquet and slipped it into my bread parcel. 
 
 
The gentleman told me they brought the seed from Ukraine, and as you can see here, the flower was in seed when she gave it to me – a fitting end to an heirloom seed sourcing trip. I’m excited to try to grow them next spring.
 
Here’s a good video on saving the seed from cockscomb flowers: 
 

june wildflowers and the front yard drop-off

We have this sort of drop-off in our front yard into a ditch along the roadside. It’s pretty steep and the two-lane brings some way-more-than-55-mph traffic within smacking distance, so I often neglect weedeating this space. In fact, we had some great daisies and wild strawberries interspersed with all the less charming stuff in May, so I began referring to the drop-off as our vertical meadow. Positive thoughts. I planned this Good Parent sort of activity with H where we’d go take pictures of local wildflowers and identify them in our Audobon wildflower guide and get some seed to scatter in the vertical meadow.
These are flowers from June (because that how long it takes to get on top of things.)
Orange Daylilies, which we’ve called Tiger Lilies for forever. 
They are, it turns out, absolutely not Tiger Lilies.
 
In my head I get carried away with these sorts of nurturing activities until it feels like scheming. I thought about how we could do it every month and learn so much about wildflowers and then scatter all those seeds, and the vertical meadow would be so taken over by wildflowers and wild edibles that people would say I’d be crazy to ever, ever weedeat that space again.
So away we ran with it, some of us more enthusiastically than others. We had fun hunting them, despite having to find a spot to park the car off the road while I ran out and snapped a picture. Because I’m not kidding about the two-lane. We’d die walking.
Good old dependable Black-Eyed Susans
 
I read somewhere that the poem Black-Eyed Susan by John Gay was the source of the flower’s name:

ALL in the Downs the fleet was moor’d,
  The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard;
  ‘O! where shall I my true-love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true        
If my sweet William sails among the crew.’
 
 
It always makes me think of Black Eyed Suzy.
 
Probably given her druthers the flower would pick Roscoe Holcomb’s banjo playing, too, and forget all about Sweet William.
Orange Butterfly Weed. Possibly my new favorite.
We haven’t really been watching for any July wildflowers, because it’s been raining so much we might be building an ark soon. I’ve been thinking about robbing some of these from neighboring ditches as they go to seed. (Except the last, which is elderberry and came from my house.)
Wild Sweet Pea
I hear these elderberry flowers make good fritters. But, then again, there aren’t many edible things that wouldn’t be good frittered.
Not a wildflower. But I planted this elderberry in the 
vertical meadow hoping it would take off like one. 
 

dandelion jelly and notes on pectin

We went on a buying spree at the farmers market Saturday because it happened to be the summer debut of carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and berries. This, of course, spawned a canning spree last night after it was cool enough in the house. (We’re still going with just open windows since it hasn’t gotten up to 90 yet.)

The first on the list was dandelion jelly. The process of collecting flowers for this jelly was pretty straightforward. I rounded up some children, headed into a yard that hadn’t been sprayed, and had a big bag of flowers picked in about half an hour. H and I sat in the kitchen afterward peeling away the petals from the leaves. While it’s not a terribly difficult task it was somewhat tedious. We ended up stopping at a quart and composting the rest.

We actually picked these in the last week of April, but I was preparing to present my thesis, take my finals, and graduate, so I packed a jar full and froze them. Someone on the internet said this was okay to do…
As you can see, we only managed to get about 99.9% of the green off.
So last night we used them in this dandelion jelly recipe. It was my first time making jelly instead of jam, and maybe I wasn’t as nervous as I should have been, because it was also my first time using Pomona Pectin. I’ve been using Canning for a New Generation more than any other canning book in the last two years, and the author doesn’t use any pectin in this book. Instead of researching this odd behavior, I concluded something must be wrong with Ball pectin and bought Pomona’s as a substitute for recipes where I might need pectin. From what I understand now after actually doing some legwork, the dextrose – a corn derivative – is an issue for some. Pomona’s also has the advantage of being activated by calcium instead of sugar, so you don’t have to add as much.
I skimmed through the pectin directions in the middle of the recipe, and then, of course, had to rush off and wing it. Had I read those directions, I would have learned that the pectin clumps up if you don’t mix it thoroughly with the sugar first. By whisking like mad, I managed to dissolve the majority of the pectin and end up with a slightly softer but still pretty successful jelly. It’s an attractive burnt gold color, and the flavor is subtle and is more honied than floral. I’ll be interested to see how it works out in a biscuit.
Next year, maybe I can work up the patience to get enough fluff to add this Dandelion Wine to the list as well.