Thursday, March 26, 2009

Something's Peekin'! Or....Spring Has Sprung!

These little Tete-de-Tete daffodils (I've seen various spellings for this plant) are the first of their kind to bloom for me here at Cairnwood Cottage. This particular photo was taken in my "Secret Garden", which is a small hidden woodland garden just off our driveway before entering the woods.

Garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is the first of my spring greens to pop up. This sorrel is planted next to my asparagus patch, along with some rhubarb.

I know for sure that spring is here when I see my rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum) peeking out of the soil. First I see little pinkish-red "heads", then leaves unfurl, looking all the world like some kind of funky green brain.

And last but not least, little tooth-like daylilly (hemerocallis) "spears" claw their way towards the sun.
Yes, spring is here!

Leaves of Three...

Work continues on reclaiming my overrun garden. The nice thing about having my raised beds overgrown with weeds is the fact that the soil is still nice, light and fluffy since quite a few years ago I double-dug the beds when I created them, and hadn’t walked on them since. The weeds held the soil in place and kept the rain and snow from compacting the soil while I was out of commission and unable to garden, so pulling the weeds hasn’t been too much of a problem.

My biggest problem is poison ivy. It came creeping down out of the woods, silently, stealthily, and quite simply took over the upper beds. My garden is a series of raised beds on a hillside, the upper beds being nearest the woods. If you don’t have a poison ivy issue, drop to your knees this very moment and give thanks! Seriously! I mean it…it’s one of the nastiest things to deal with and try to eradicate from a garden. Oh, it can be sprayed and killed, however, as an organic gardener I really don’t want to be spraying toxic chemicals all over my garden. So what’s an organic gardener to do? I’ve tried killing it in the past with homemade weed killers (vinegar, salt, alcohol, water mixture), which knocked it back some, but it didn’t really KILL it.

So, I got to the root of the problem by no less than pulling it out by the roots. You have to be dressed for battle with no exposed bare skin unless you’re willing to writhe in agony for days and days as you scratch at the worst itch you’ve ever experienced. Long pants, long-sleeved shirt, double gloves (I wear latex-type medical gloves under leather work gloves)….You could wear a face shield of some sort if you wanted, but I was brave (stupid?) and went without, knowing that if I touched my face with the dastardly plant, I had five minutes to race to the house and wash my face with soap and water before the oils could cause me grief. And the grief doesn’t start right away. It could be several days after exposure before the itching begins.

Poison ivy is a pretty plant. I love vining plants, and PI is one champion vine (though I don’t love it!) The vines can run along the top of the soil, like little super highways, sending down roots and voila!, a new plant pops up, only to send out its own network of roots and vines. The roots and vines go on and on and on. I’ve got some PI vines that are close to thirty feet long that I pulled out and tossed in the “poison ivy pile”. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do with all that PI I’ve pulled. I can’t burn it. Well, I could, but I don’t think the neighbors would be too happy when they end up broken out in a PI rash, since the oils can be carried on the smoke. The above photo shows the stack of PI that I yanked out of six garden beds--that's a five-gallon bucket for a size reference.

I found that my best friend, while yanking out the PI, is a rake. One of those strong, sturdy rakes that doesn’t bend and flex. The tines grab the vines and roots as I’d rake it across the soil, letting me know where the little BLEEPERS were, then I’d grab the vines/roots and pull. I’ve also got a nifty method of pulling and coiling the vines to keep them from slapping me in the face, but that’s too difficult to explain. I guess if you pull enough of the stuff, you’ll figure it out.

I think I’ve got my garden beds clear of the poison ivy now, though I know there are still roots hidden here and there, which I’ll probably end up grabbing at some point thinking they’re some other type of root (with my bare hands, no less). Oh, and as well as I was protected, I still ended up with a poison ivy rash on my wrist; probably from taking gloves on and off. My clothes went into the washer after the PI slaughter, and went through two wash cycles to assure the urushiol (the poison ivy oil) was gone. My leather gloves? Well, I think they’re destined for the garbage as I’m not sure a good washing or two would get the urushiol out of them.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Enough is Enough!

OK, it's closing in on a year since I've made an entry here, and quite simply, enough is enough! I'm going to TRY and write here more frequently than a few times a year. Yesterday was an amazingly warm (70+ degrees!) day for March, and Spring Fever has hit me big time, and of course along with that comes the gardening bug. So much to do, so much to do.

I was diagnosed with follicular non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in October of last year, and of course so many things were put on hold because of that. I won't go in to details here, but I have started another blog, "Cells Gone Wild" at: where I'll chronicle my "new normal" in living with this incurable disease. Anyway, I'm feeling pretty good now and am anxious to get back to living a somewhat normal life.

So, back to yesterday. My poor garden has been sorely neglected for the last two years due to multiple rotator cuff surgeries, a hysterectomy, trigger thumb surgery, and now cancer, and it really shows. Mother Nature waits for no man (or woman), and she will gladly and quickly reclaim any land that sits idle. My garden is no exception.

Last year I did manage to plant a small garden...some tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, squash, etc. And it was good.

I'm a raised bed gardener, and right now I can't even tell you how many beds I have! At one time I had close to 20, but 4 are completely covered in grass, brambles and poison ivy (HATE that stuff!), and another 4 or 5 got completely flattened when I had my husband rototil the garden because I just couldn't keep up with the weeds the last few years. I think I've got 6 or 7 raised beds that are in pretty good shape at the moment. Yesterday I spent the better part of the day pulling and cutting out brambles and saplings that were trying take over the upper garden beds that border the woods. The soil is still amazing there under all that vegetation. At least the weeds protected it from erosion and compaction; I just wish the poison ivy had decided not to invade.

Earlier in the week I ordered 30 chicks from Welp Hatchery in Iowa ( ). I'll be getting some Welsummer, Speckled Sussex, and Auraucana chicks around the 15th of April. I really don't need 30 chickens, so will be finding a home for maybe half of them, but there was that whole 25 chick minimum order thing and I needed to mix and match in numbers greater than 5 of each type/sex, thus the 30. I'm so anxious to get some fresh eggs in a rainbow of colors from my very own hens! Now to get the henhouse built up there between my garden and the woods....