So it Begins

asparagus, sprout

Always, it seems, with peas, then radishes and just when you think something must be wrong, the asparagus pops up and you find yourself eating the tender, juicy spears while standing in the garden.  Fat ones like this at the store, you have to peel off the tough outside.  Not so when fresh.

Amish Snap, pea, sprout

Just about the time you have to give you asparagus a rest, the peas and radishes will be coming in — and transplants will be going out. The very transplants that I painfully forced myself to cull yesterday. I want them all to live. But good gardeners are sometimes ruthless gardeners, and that means the strongest, toughest seedlings will be the last ones standing.

Even when it does mean pinching off your little photosynthetic children at the soil line.


Spring Fever(s)

cedar, flower, pollen, yellow

I have been saying for a while now that spring is here.  The plants and the sun don’t lie, even if the temperature does.  Over the past few days, the temperature has caught up, and like a starting gun has gone off, the woods and pastures and roadsides are exploding.

Unfortunately, last week found me with a cold and fever, then allergies kicked in, and so about the time I got myself back on track, I was running behind.  Trying to ramp up two sideline income streams to full fledged small businesses is, frankly, much harder work than working for someone else, and my time allocation right now is hampered by random appointment times, out of town trips and government forms.  I’m not complaining: this is a lot more fun than programming software all day.   But it has reduced the time I’ve been able to spend on the blog lately.

Today, though, I finally got back outside for some work in the garden in what has been a glorious spring day.  (Due apologies to readers farther north still struggling with snow.)  The peas are looking lovely, the radishes are coming up and the transplants got a taste of the outdoors today.  I cut back the shrubs that did not survive the winter to see if any come back from the roots, weeded the garden and finally marked all my bulbs — 4 years late — so I can dig and separate them later this year.

Tomorrow is almost promising to be hot, but no free time in the garden for me: it’s back to work.  But I hope everyone is in your garden (or at least outdoors) at some point taking advantage of the the mild temperatures that much of the country is enjoying.

The woodlands bloom in spring, too.



There are many spring “weeds” that thrive in the first rays of the returning sun, but in the woods plants are blooming as well.  Many are tiny, delicate and short-lived flowers (like wood anemones) that are often overlooked.  Others have been hybridized and cultivated from their wild cousins to join the garden (like lenten rose), and still others are invasives that have escaped from the garden trade to displace native life (like Oregon Grape).

The woods right now are more alive than you’d think, particularly in moist bottomlands.  If you have a chance, get out for a slow stroll or vigorous hike — whichever suits your style — and enjoy these treats while they last.

Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)

Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)

Hepatica sp.

Hepatica sp.

Bear's Foot (Helleborus foetidus) - non-native

Bear’s Foot (Helleborus foetidus) – non-native

Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea)

Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea)

Oregon Grape (Mahonia sp.)

Oregon Grape (Mahonia sp.)

Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.)

Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.)


Spring weeds, and the homestretch to gardening season

yellow crocus

Yellow crocus

This is the reality of spring in Alabama: she’s a fickle tease or else just can’t make up her mind, and woe to the gardener that is lulled by the charms of a warm week into thinking winter is done.  It was sunny and in the 70’s a couple of days ago, but tonight it will probably snow.  Tomorrow night, the wind chill will drop near zero and actual temps will be in the teens.   But the march toward warm weather is relentless.  The sunlight falls differently and lasts noticeably longer each day, and the birds are singing their mating calls as loudly and often as they can.  The trees are tinged with pink and orange, their buds nearly ready to burst open.  Some of the precocious shrubs like forsythia and witchhazel are in full bloom.

Fields and lawns are filled with color as the early spring weeds begin their cycle of reproduction, giving bees a bit of early forage and us humans a bit of color among the dormant, brown summer grasses.  One person’s lovely bloom is a lawn aficionado’s enemy, but I like the shades of purple, blue, pink, white and yellow that my lawn runs through in spring.  Soon enough the bermuda and St. Augustine grass will take over, but right now belongs to the “weeds.”

Weeds like henbit, an edible member of the mint family.  Notwithstanding the timeless allure of blowing dandelion seed heads into the wind (to the silent dismay of my lawn-loving father), the fragile purple blossoms of henbit were my favorite, and I carefully gathered them into spring bouquets for my Mom.


Bittercress was harder to find, but I would pick that, too.  It’s a member of the mustard family and has a pleasant spicy bite to it, not too hot to eat by itself but gives a bit of a zing in salads.  It is not bitter at all, despite the name.



Speedwell, aka Veronica, is also blooming now.  Its tiny blue flowers are easily overlooked by themselves, but in mass they are a pleasing delicate blue.  Also edible and very nutritious, it tastes a bit like watercress although it can be quite bitter.  My local variety is probably Veronica persica, or Persian Speedwell.  It’s a European import that has spread throughout the United States, and historically was used as a tea to help reduce excess mucus from colds.  Scientific research on this plant is, unfortunately, very slim — but it’s still a cheerful blue.

speedwell, veronica

More lovely spring “weed” flowers are coming, from the cousin to henbit, Dead Nettle, to buttercup, dandelions and clover and the very useful chickweed.  Those are waiting for the soil to warm up just a little bit more, but I will be enjoying the terrible, pretty lawn weeds for their ephemeral spring lifespan.

At the Seed Swap

jars of seeds

Last night was the Tennessee Valley Community Garden Association‘s 2nd Annual Seed Celebration, in partnership with the Greene Street Market at Nativity and benefiting the Sand Mountain Seed Bank.  The event was a resounding success again this year.  People enjoyed the buffet provided by local businesses with live music before the keynote speaker took the stage.  Jeannine Windham of New South Associates discussed the prehistoric and historic food ways of the southeastern United States.  Finally, the raffle prizes were drawn: a mounted canvas from local artist Ian McAlister and a large matted photograph from Finch Hollow Photography.

And all through the night the seed swap room was open.  In addition to the seeds brought by individual gardeners and this blog’s donation of Recession Gold tomato seeds, the Sand Mountain Seed Bank shared seeds and there were donations from Sow True Seed and Peaceful Valley via Deep Roots of Alabama.  I may have missed some seed donors since I was busy helping out, but named or not their donations were appreciated and all were taken home by gardeners and would-be gardeners.  (And if you know of any, please tell me so I can add them!)

Seed swaps are all about connecting with your fellow gardeners, making relationships and sharing our food heritage.  Please join us next year in late winter for the 3rd Annual Seed Celebration.

Final thanks:

First ever “Recession Gold” tomato seeds available!


Some years ago, I embarked on a tomato breeding experiment.  “Recession Gold” is a Gold Medal x German Striped x Brandywine cross.   It produces 1-2 lb. yellow and red slicers that are exceptionally sweet on large, indeterminate vines.  It tastes like a German Striped, but has the higher productivity and more uniformly round fruits of Gold Medal.  Average fruit size has been reduced from German Striped, but I would like to reduce it more.

My goals were:

  • Improved productivity over German Striped and Brandywine
  • Maintain rich, sweet German Striped taste
  • Superior southern disease resistance (needs continued improvement)
  • Reduce average fruit size to about 1 lb globular fruits  (in progress)

I need gardeners, especially those in the southeastern U.S., to grow out plants and tell me if the seeds bred true to the stated characteristics for them to determine the stability of the cross.  I grew out all my previous years last summer, and I am very happy with the progress made and believe a stable cross has been reached, but only growing out lots and lots of plants will tell for sure.

FREE seed packets will be available at the 2nd Annual Seed Celebration presented by the Tennessee Valley Community Garden Association at the Church of the Nativity in downtown Huntsville, AL on January 31st, 2014.  I hope you can join us, and bring your own seeds to share and swap.  Last year was a huge success, and this year should be even better.  Local food, beer and wine will be provided and the keynote speaker starts at 7:15pm.

If you can’t make the event, I do have some seeds in reserve I can send out to blog readers.  Drop me a comment below or email for details.