Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gardening Floyd: After the Deluge

It's been about 10 days since the torrential rain that filled every branch, stream, creek, river, and pond to overflowing and completely saturated the ground.  We've had a mix of bright, sunny days and typical April showers since then.  The grass has been growing like crazy and the sound of lawn mowers is back.  Unfortunately the soil hasn't drained and dried enough to do seriously tilling and both the backyard gardeners and farmers of Floyd are falling behind schedule.  If the ground is too damp when tilled it clumps and balls up, damaging the soil structure, instead of leaving behind a nice crumbly bed for seeds and transplants.  It's a little frustrating.  These damp overcast days are perfect for transplanting but only if the beds have already been prepared.

Last Friday we went to the home of one of Michael's coworkers.  Glenda and her husband have a gorgeous little property near the Jefferson National Forest just outside of Newport, VA.  Glenda's been growing an edible landscape for nearly 14 years now and had lots of small tree sprouts and bush suckers she needed to get rid of but couldn't bear to just destroy so we offered to help her out and give some of the little darlings a "forever home".  It was a perfect day for such work; cool, misty, and overcast.  We came home with  pawpaw trees, a mulberry, elderberry bushes, black and red currants, and more josta bushes.  She has several hardy almonds growing that she said started producing abundantly within 5 years of planting that led us to decide to add a few to our land.  Unfortunately, though we found some sprouting, hardy almonds are grafted on to peach tree stock which gives them their hardiness, and a tree sprouted from a hardy almond will most likely be an inferior peach when it grows up.  So we'll have to look for the trees at a nursery.

We got home a little after noon and Michael set to planting our new adoptees.  He got several planted in the designated orchard on the slope behind the house, the lower southwest corner of our upper property, and the rest heeled in to wait until the ground dries enough to till the new beds where they will grow.  "Heeling in" is done by digging a shallow trench, laying the roots of the shrubs and trees in it and loosely covering with dirt to keep the root balls moist and protected while waiting to be planted.  It's an extremely temporary holding pattern until we can get the ground in their permanent homes prepared.

Since the weekend I've transplanted the hot pepper mix and the Carnival bell peppers into their individual containers for growing.  I grow the bells and hot peppers in large pots (one transplant per pot) that line the walk to our front porch.  The giant Marconi peppers take up the designated pepper space in the current beds.  I discovered last year that six pots of the Carnival Bells provide all the frozen dice, slices, and cups I need to get us through the winter.  We're not big fans of hot food, although we like spicy, and six pots of mixed peppers gives us plenty for cooking, pickling, and drying.  The Marconis are our favorite for fresh eating, roasting and stuffing.  I preserve the Marconis as roasted and frozen strips, red pepper pesto/spread, and stuffed with sausage from Bright's Farm mixed with rice and frozen, ready to be tossed in a pot with homemade tomato sauce.  All the peppers could actually be planted together since they are all hybrids and we don't save seed from any of them but I like the look of the colored peppers lining the walk and it does free up some space in the garden.  Next year I want to trial some Corni de Toro peppers, an open pollinator similar to the giant Marconi hybrid as a possible replacement which we could seed save.

I also seeded acorn, delicata, patty pan, round zucchini, and spaghetti squash.  Today I'm seeding Alibi cucumbers (little cukes I use for sweet gherkins and cornichons) and Divia cucumbers (for fresh eating, garlic dills and bread and butter pickles).  I love the little Alibis and plant them in box planters that hang off the front porch railing.  Instead of having to trellis them, they trail downward off the porch providing decoration with their yellow flowers and easy picking.  The single drawback is they require a LOT of water grown this way, two thorough soakings a day during the high heat of summer.  The Divas we plant and trellis in the garden.

Today the skies are overcast and it's drizzling off and on so it's going to be another few days until the tiller might possibly be used.  All the perennial herbs need to be divided and put into new as yet nonexistent beds, and the annual herbs, while not yet ready for transplant will need new nonexistent beds.  The new asparagus bed is partially prepared but needs amendments tilled into it, two new strawberry beds need to be dug along with the beds for the new shrubs above and raspberry beds.

Even if it does dry out in the next few days Michael has a seriously huge project going on at work requiring 12 hour days until next Sunday.  I am not ashamed to say that I'm afraid of our monster tiller.  In our rocky (read bouldery) clay soil, it leaps and bucks in a terrifying way that I don't think I could control.  I am, however, a master with the mini-tiller and once Michael has the new bed broken up I go in there and deep dig it thoroughly, till in the amendments, and tweak it into shape.  It's a good division of labor.

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