Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Artichoke: Flower or food?

As you may know, I'm growing an artichoke in the front yard. It's almost harvest time, but I'm having trouble deciding between food or flower.

Artichokes that you might buy at the farmer's market or grocery store are the immature flower buds of the artichoke plant. Kind of like cauliflower or broccoli, with one major exception. Artichoke flowers are gorgeous!

photo courtesy of: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

What do you think?

Food, to feed the tummies?

photo courtesy of: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Or a flower, to feed the soul?

photo courtesy of: http://www.freeclipartpictures.com

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stereotypical Lavender

Do I look English to you?

Do I look Spanish to you?

I heart lavender. It's so easy. It needs very little from me. It blooms at least twice a year. It has a nice fragrance. These are just some of the reasons why I grow several varieties in my garden. I don't want to offend anybody, but I've noticed something. The first photo is Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender), while the 2nd photo is Lavandula stoechas (Spanish lavender). Does the English lavender look stereotypicaly "English" to you? It's elegant, orderly, prim and proper. I mean can't you just see the Queen sipping tea while admiring the L. augustifolia? On the other hand, we have the Spanish lavender - vibrant, showy, fiesta!

Spanish lavender is native to the Mediterranean region and North Africa. Despite its common name, English lavender also comes from the Mediterranean region, predominantly (and ironically) Spain. However, L. angustifolia can be seen in many English gardens, which seems to be how the common name was derived.

And now an intereting tidbit from Wikipedia:

"During Roman times, [lavender] flowers were sold for 100 denarii per pound, which was about the same as a month's wages for a farm labourer, or fifty haircuts from the local barber."

Hmmm...my lavender flowers twice a year. If I planted it throughout our property, that would mean...Dang! I could have been rich!

On the other hand, I would have to live in Roman times... Depending on your point of view, that might not be such a good thing. I'll keep what I've got.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Artichokes rising

Neighbors have been asking: "What is that huge plant in the front corner of your yard? Is that an Artichoke?"
My reply: "Why yes, it is!"

And it's a behemoth:

Artichokes are king in Castroville, which is only a few miles from my house. In fact, they host an Artichoke Festival every year in the small agricultural town. http://www.artichoke-festival.org/ has all the details of the 50th celebration of this lovely thistle.

Just one of several posters available for purchase on the site:

There's a reason artichokes are so widely grown in Castroville and I'll bet you can guess it.

That's right, climate. According to the festival organizers:

"Artichokes are a marine climate vegetable and thrive in the cooler coastal climates. The artichoke does best in frost-free areas with cool, foggy summers but will grow almost anywhere there are at least 100 frost free days. Freezing temperatures will kill the buds and hot, dry conditions destroy the tenderness though artichokes do, however, like full sun."

A baby artichoke just beginning to emerge.

It's all about the cool weather crops here on the Central Coast!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bee love

Bees pollinate one-third of our food
+ Bees are in trouble
= The Great Sunflower Project

In case this looks like "fuzzy math" to you, here's the rundown:

The Great Sunflower Project was started by a San Francisco State researcher and several colleagues. The goal is to track bee pollination activity across North America in various individual gardens. Currently, there are 26,000 participants. The ABSENCE of bees in an area is an important piece of information for the researchers...perhaps even more important than the PRESENCE of bees.

Each participant is given a packet of 'Lemon Queen' sunflower seeds to plant wherever they live (or work, I suppose). When the plants bloom, participants go into "science mode" once a week or so. This involves recording the amount of time it takes for 5 bees to visit the plant and possibly photographing the visitors.

Here are my seeds:

I've planted them in a sunny location and will let you know when they bloom. I have a hunch that I'll be seeing some bees...

they really love the lavender:

and the apple tree:

Ok, no bee it that photo, but you'll just have to trust me. The bees had all gone home for the day by the time I got a chance to take this photo.

The Project's website (www.GreatSunflower.org) gives further information, if you would like to join for next year :

"We know that pollinators are declining in certain wild and many agricultural landscapes. However, little is known about urban pollinators. Our recent data on bumble bees in an urban setting suggests that urban bees may also be declining (McFrederick & LeBuhn 2006, Fenter and LeBuhn submitted). The data you collect from your sunflower willbe a start. It will provide an insight into how our green spaces in the urban, suburban and rural landscapes are connected as well as shedding light on how to help pollinators. What we need are innovative strategies to maximize the benefits of our wild and semi-wild habitat remnants. The Great Sunflower Project is the first step."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Orchid color transitions...

I see your true colors, shinin' thru.

I see your true colors, and that's why I love you!

I apologize for the cheesy 80s lyrics but more than that, for the quality of these photos. They are of the first blooming of my Cymbidium Sussex Dawn 'Concolor'. Which I thought was white...until pink began to show up in the lip. It's actually quite pretty, but I'm not sure it's going to last much longer. This is because I can see a yellowing of the petiole...this is the little stem that attaches the flower to the main inflorescence. For the first few weeks, it was all white. Then she started to blush ;)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Puh-tae-toe, Pah-ta-toe

Who plants potatoes in January? I do! This photo shows 10 plants, 2 of 5 varieties: All Blue, All Red, Colorado Rose, German Butterball, & Yukon Gold. In December we dug out this narrow bed and laid down gopher wire, which we shaped like a basket. The basket is about 16 inches deep. I back-filled a couple of inches of soil, then set out my seed potatoes. Next I covered them with 6 inches of soil/compost. (Please note that this is more than the recommended initial covering for potatoes...I can do that because my soil is SOOO sandy.) Now that they have really taken off, I add some compost every few weeks to continue filling in the bed.

As a side note, I just found a stow-away potato plant growing like gangbusters behind the greenhouse. It was a leftover from last summer. After an accidental crushing of the top growth, I decided to dig it up. Six cute little potatoes was my reward. Nice.