The Milkweed Diaries

Saturday, April 25, 2009

In Praise of Okra

I've been loving the little Burgundy Okra seedlings in the hoophouse since they first sprouted, their dark green leaves looking all wine-stained with red. Now their first true leaves have emerged, a springey yellow-green color that looks amazing with the deep red stems.  

Okra are truly beautiful plants, members of the hibiscus family, and one of my favorite summer garden plants.  I think okra would be worth planting just for the ornamental value even if they didn't bear food. Those tropical leaves! Those voluptuous flowers! That towering height!  

As I've been going through plant orders for our Big Plant Sale coming up May 9, I've noticed very few requests for okra.  The relative lack of interest in okra starts inspired me to post some okra photos from our garden last summer, to draw attention to the beautiful and underappreciated vegetable.  

These pictures really stoke my anticipation of summer this time of year when tiny seedlings are dwarfed by big, empty beds, its nice to remember that in a few months, the garden will be overflowing with wild, abundant plant life.  

So here's to anticipation of summer, and long live okra!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Seedling Update with Feathered Special Guest Stars

The hoophouse seedlings are all growing like mad, despite some cold nights.  We took some pictures at the three-week mark today.

By far the heartiest are the brassicas, with Red Ursa Kale (above) looking the most impressive.

The heirloom tomatoes and peppers continue their slow and irregular progress (below: tomato seedlings).

Lots of other things are looking lovely - some of the lovliest are the Burgundy Amaranth (left-the photo doesn't do them justice) and various types of nasturtiums (below, with their magical droplet-holding powers).

Lettuce, squash, artichokes, okra, herbs, flowers, and all of the 4,800 babies continue to grow and thrive.

Brassicas busting a move

Various lettuce babies

Over the past few weeks, we have nurtured these little plants every day and some nights. We have fretted that they are too hot, or too cold, too dry, or too wet, worried about "damping off" and pests and whether we should have sterilized the flats before planting.  And the plants have grown.  

Seedlings are so strong, determined, and full of sheer green life energy.  Watching them grow, I have felt intimately connected to these tiny bits of plant matter.  Almost invariably I head to the hoophouse first thing in the morning, sometimes even before caffiene, to check on "the babies."  

And there have been all manner of greenhouse adventures.

For example:

This afternoon when CF and I went in to check on the babies, there were two sparrow-sized birds inside the hoophouse.  They were flying around back and forth up near the ceiling, and at first we assumed they had gotten in through the door and couldn't figure out how to get out.  

But we watched them for a few minutes, and it was clear that they were not trying to get out--they were hunting!  They were zooming back and forth through the air, feasting on bugs.  One of the birds flew expertly out the door and then right back in. They knew exactly what they were doing. They had discovered a big plastic bug trap that collects and holds live insect prey for them -- a bug buffet.

We watched the birds hunt and feast for a while, and delighted in the wonders of natural bug control in the greenhouse.  We were so excited about what they were doing that we didn't pay very much attention to what they looked like.  I do remember that they were stripey and brown and the size of a largish sparrow. Perusing Peterson's later in the day, I thought they could have been female finches, or any number of types of sparrows, or maybe if I was really not paying attention to things like tailfeathers, even wrens of some kind.  I looked up the eating habits of wrens, sparrows, and finches and discovered that all three eat insects, so that was no help.

In my googling, however, I did turn up a good article about birds eating insects and how to attract insectavorous birds to the garden. It starts out with this great teaser:

"Imagine a device that could kill 1,000 insects in a single afternoon without doing any harm to the environment. Unbelievably, such a device has already been devised and could be flying past your window right now."

Read the full article by Darcy Logan here.  I especially recommend Part Two of the article, which offers details about specific insect-eating birds.

So the moral of the story is that nature has everything under control. Special thanks to the feathered agents of pest control in our hoophouse. . .and onward to frost-free nights!

The beloved hoophouse, full of baby plants.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Late Snow and Green Things

Woad, an ancient and hearty medicinal and ceremonial plant, holding its own in the snow

Sometime before the sun went down yesterday, the snow started falling. We stoked the fire in the hoophouse, tucked row cover over our raised beds, checked to make sure everything outside was mulched heavily, and generally battoned down the hatches.  

The snow is still coming down, in heavy wet flakes, and the thermometer is hovering around freezing.  But it's in the 60s in the greenhouse, and the young plants are looking perfectly happy in their warm black plastic homes.  And even in outside in the garden without the protection of the hoophouse, the hardy early spring stalwarts  are looking strong.  

I've been literally keeping the home fires burning today.  As the sun has gradually burned off the fog, it's turned into a beautiful snowy spring day with robins hopping around on the bright green spring grass while delighfully incongrous fat white snow flakes swirl around them.


Valerian in the garden

Leeks and Catnip

Basil seedlings in the hoophouse

Tiny rainbow chard already showing its colors

Cucumber babies!

The first artichoke

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tiny Plant Babies

This morning while Christopher was inside getting dressed and ready for a day of office work, I was up at the hoophouse, giving him updates on the babies via 2-way radio.  "We have collards!" I shouted into the walkie-talkie.  "Lots of broccoli!  Lettuce!  More kale!"  

C. radioed back: "It's magic."


As promised, baby pictures:




Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The First Sprouts!

The first of the babies are showing their heads: a dozen or so red ursa kale and dino kale seedlings have emerged!

Photos tomorrow.  I'm too tired today from planting somewhere between 30 and 40 more flats of flowers and herbs in the past two days.