Monday, February 14, 2011

Perennial Herbs

I finished the herb garden cleanup today. The barometer falling, a chill wind had come up overnight, harbinger of the storm headed our way. But with the combination of hard work, weak sun, and protective house walls on the north and west I soon worked up a sweat.

That area was once filled with massive spreading juniper bushes. I'd never really liked them there. The living room picture window looks out over that area, so I wanted something prettier. Plus, junipers can go up just like gasoline in a wildfire situation. Not a good landscaping choice right next to the house in our arid, fire-prone location. When we remodeled the deck and walkway on that side of the house, I talked Aries into pulling out the junipers too.

The only plant I left in that bed was a roof-high lilac bush. In hindsight, it's the wrong plant in the wrong place. For one, it was planted too close to the house - I have to get behind it and clip off any branches that are growing into the eaves. And two, it's the type better used in a hedge, not as a specimen plant. But I love the shade and privacy it provides the bathroom window behind it, especially on hot summer nights. So, I diligently prune the suckers early each spring, when I can work around it before the rest of the plants come back underneath.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Herb Garden Cleanup

Snow is in the forecast for later this week, but today was clear, warm, and still. I decided to do a bit of spring cleaning in the herb garden outside my kitchen door.

I gathered the necessary hand tools, fetched the wheelbarrow, set the solar-powered radio in the sun, and got to work. Spent stalks of last fall's flowers, left for the bees' last foraging, were clipped and tossed. A couple of the hens have been hopping the little picket fence. Their scratching (ewww, it smells like the cat's been in here too) had turned the once-level ground into little pits and mounds. They'd also scattered the rocks filling the drainage trench beneath the eaves across half the bed. Working with a leaf rake, I got most of the rocks and dirt mounds back in place, debris destined for the compost pile into the wheelbarrow.

There were some pleasant surprises - a green-shelled egg (one of our Amerucana/Brown Leghorn cross-breed hens has been here - it sank and laid down when submerged in water, so I know it was fresh, but had a crack in one side - probably froze overnight - so I tossed it), sprouting tips of the earliest daffodils starting to emerge, and beneath the lilac, a bright yellow bud of the first crocus.

The hours passed with the simple joy of getting my hands back in the dirt. The shadows lengthened. I moved the radio a couple of times, chasing the patches of sunlight, until I finally had to go find the power cord and set it up on a bucket near the electrical outlet. I'd finished with the herb garden, and started cutting suckers out of the lilac by the time Aries came home from work. Time to put my tools away and empty the wheelbarrow so he could use it to bring in firewood. In the last bit of light, I made a couple of trips down below the vegetable garden, fetching up big pieces of wire fencing to lay down over everything. After all that work, I had to make sure the hens (or cat) couldn't scratch it all up again.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Onion Order

Onions end up in just about everything I cook for dinner, quite often in breakfasts too, and many of my canning recipes. Despite numerous attempts, I've never been able to grow decent onions from seed. They'll sprout but just never have done very well for me, if they survive until the setting-out stage at all. So then I'd end up buying a couple of the little bags of onion sets, the miniature bulbs you plant in the early spring to get bigger bulbs later in the season. Those work good if you mainly want scallions or small onions to use fresh - they usually aren't the storage type. My goal in growing onions is to have enough for all my end-of-season canning, plus more to cure and store until I can start harvesting the next summer's crop. Buying onion plants works best for me.

I lost quite a few of last summer's storage onion plants midsummer, to Bambi, so this year I had to start buying my cooking onions in January. I am digging wintered-over leeks now, and still have plenty of shallots though. And soon, I should be able to harvest some spring onions. My walking onions are starting to sprout anew, and the bunching onions should start coming back before too much longer too. I have some onion seeds that are only a year old, so might try starting my own once more, but taking my past attempts into consideration I'm not counting on them.

Today, I ordered a couple bunches of onion plants for this year's main onion crop. I've tried buying onion plants here in town, but the ones the local greenhouse has each spring don't last in storage. A couple of times in the past, I've asked if they could stock some different, better-storing, varieties. But they've repeatedly refused, saying most people want only fresh-eating onions. I can understand their not wanting to stock something they don't think will sell - I realize I probably live differently than most around here. So I've found myself an onion grower that ships what I want to grow - Dixondale Farms. I'm very pleased with both the varieties available and the condition of the plants I've received from them in the past. They're a bit pricey if you're only going to get one bunch, but the price goes down with each additional bunch and shipping is free. If you only have a small space for onions, maybe see if any of your gardening friends want to go in with you on an order.

According to their planting maps, my home in northern Nevada is on the boundary between the intermediate- and long-day onion types. Long-day onions do best north of here, where the summer daylight hours are longest, but will also do well here if planted early enough. I prepared my "early" garden bed last fall, setting out garlic and shallots then, scattering a few spinach and arugula seeds then too. The rest of that bed is just waiting for my earliest sowing of peas, lettuces, and the onions. My onion plants are scheduled to arrive in mid-March. That sounds good to me - folklore says to plant your peas on St Patrick's Day, so I'm hoping the weather will cooperate enough to let me get that whole bed planted then.

They package about 60 onion plants in a bunch; I ordered two bunches. I like yellow Copra onions. I know they grow well here, and easily hold in storage until the following July. So I ordered one bunch of them. Then, since I love experimenting too, I'm trying something new. They have a Long-Day Sampler bunch, a combination of yellow Walla Walla, for eating fresh in the summer plus some fall canning, white Ringmaster for canning and early winter cooking, and Red Zeppelin, a red variety that is supposed to store 6-8 months. If all do well, that should be enough.