January Melt of Art and Gardens

The snow was great while it lasted!  We had a big storm just after Christmas that kept snow on the ground, and accumulating, for a couple weeks.  At it’s height we probably had a foot and a half of snow, which makes for a cozy and festive holiday season.  I know it’s old-fashioned, but I can’t help myself: I have to put on Christmas music when there’s snowflakes falling.

But today marks the end of that season, for now.  It’s definitely a little liberating to walk around the whole yard, not just on the paths that I tediously carved out.  And I haven’t had to worry about the ducks’ water freezing over, a responsibility that was more like another part time job for a while.  Easy living these days now that the chickens have finally emerged from their coop and the ducks have left their hideaway under the porch.   We even covered up the windows in the duck hut with some wax produce boxes to keep out the snow—a perfect fit!

And now that the chickens are out and about, I thought I’d take the opportunity to photograph the (empty) nest boxes in our sweet coop.  I think our last chicken egg was a few weeks ago.

It’s a good set-up, if only the days would get longer, ha.  Our ladies have been ‘cooped up’ with not wanting to get snow on their feet for some reason, so today was a very special day all around.

The birds were feasting today!  And me too…I capitalized on the thawed ground to harvest some leeks.  A little beat up from the cold, but fresh nonetheless!

They still took some effort to pull, mostly because of those roots!  These leeks are just about one year old (to the day), so it makes since they’re thinking themselves rather permanent.

And it’s rather fitting, since the first leeks of 2013 germinated today.  I’ve got the shop lights set up in the bedroom this year (perfect!  Simply turn them on when I wake up, shut them off when it’s time for bed).  Not much room right now, but I’ve got no more seeding til February, whereupon it’s time for the leeks to move to natural light anyway.  So for now, look at their first moments above ground…you can barely see them:

It’s so exciting.  I’ll have to get into time-lapse photography at some point.  :)

I’ve also been cultivating springtime in the home by forcing bulbs.  In the basement I’ve got pots of Montreaux tulips and Thalia narcissus that are just about to finish their chilling requirement.  In the meantime the paperwhites have been putting on a heady display.  I’m a big fan.

And meanwhile, back outdoors, the mache is prime for the harvest:

The best on burgers.  Have I mentioned that?!  Really any sandwich that calls for greens needs mache.  We’re lucky it’s cold out!  Chervil is another plant that loves the cold weather (a winter harvest can be prolific!).  It hugs the ground for a few months but stays green and harvestable, and in spring it goes to flower in a beautiful way.  Some people say it’s difficult to grow, but only if you’re trying to grow it in full sun in the summer. I love chervil’s pretty fern-like foliage in the garden (it’s in the carrot family), and it adds a delicate licorice flavor when finishing stews, especially a beef shank braised with rosemary and thyme, although you’d want to add those two earlier.   Yum!

That’s the garden in January…a suprising amount of activity!  I’ll leave off with a picture of one of our oldest sugar maple trees, the one that had the most damage with last spring’s late snowstorm.  It’s been in my thoughts as these 50-degree January days linger.  We don’t tap this one in particular, but it seems like maple season is already upon us. Hey, I’ll take the sap as long as it runs, but keep those leaves tight in bud til May!

Snow and Seeding Spring Planting Art and Flowers

Well February has arrived, and I must say we are still deep in Winter.  It’s cozy to be inside next to the fire, but it’s around now when I can’t wait to get out in the garden.

But we did have a brief respite.  We had just picked up the Nearings’s The Maple Sugar Book in preparation for the upcoming maple season, when we realized we were about to embark on a couple freakish days in the high 50′s …following a few weeks of highs in the single digits.  Everything was frozen SOLID.  Would the sap even run?  And if it did thaw enough to run would it just stop after the temperature climbed too high?  We found out the good way!

We tapped our trees in the morning of the 30th and the sap was already running, and fast. It was about 40 degrees out.  It grew warmer and warmer on into the night, until it peaked at 60 degrees the following afternoon.  We checked our buckets…sap couldn’t have run all night, right?

Wrong!  It was still running.  From our 7 trees we got around 17 gallons of sap over those two days, which boiled down to just under a half gallon of sweet grade A syrup.

Of course I can’t help but get another angle on these beauties:

Ahhh.  Our teeth will rot out in the best way possible. :)

Inside, I moved the leek seedlings to a cooler room with natural light, as they seemed to already outgrow the shop light set-up in the bedroom.  I might do a little thinning before they go into the coldframe, but maybe not.

And I sowed the first of my February seeds under the now-vacant lights: Reine des Glaces lettuce, flat parsley, broadleaf sage, and German thyme.  Hopefully they’ll germinate just as readily as the leeks.

I wanted to share a close-up of some of my favorite seed houses.  Fedco Seeds, www.fedcoseeds.com, in Maine is a co-operative stemming from the ’70s.  Not only are their catalogs informative, entertaining, and inspiring, but their seeds rock.  And their prices.  I want to stay regional with my seed sources, but every year Nichols Garden Nursery, www.nicholsgardennursery.com, out in Oregon wins me over.  I can’t help myself.  They have the best varieties and wonderful prices, all in appropriate packet sizes for the home gardener.  And their seeds rock too.  And last but not least is Seed Savers Exchange from Iowa, www.seedsavers.org, also not regional but still awesome.  Although their prices are higher, this organization is definitely worth supporting.  I got several packets during an end-of-year sale, and I hope to become a member of the Flower and Herb Exchange when I have some extra dollars.  I tend to think a little doomsday about our fading national seed supply, and I am grateful to these seed houses for refusing GMOs and working tirelessly to preserve heirloom varieties.   The possibilities will once again be endless!

The longer days are serving our houseplants well, too.  I’m newly obsessed with two orchids that I’ve chronically neglected.  One of them already has new leaves forming!

In another windowsill are the bulbs I’ve been forcing indoors this winter.  In the big pot are Montreaux tulips, and in the small one Thalia narcissus.  Hopefully they’ll flower before their outdoor counterparts, but even the vegetative growth is enough to add a little springtime to these cold days.

Hope you are staying warm!  March is just a short month away!