Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Sweet Smells of Spring

Despite the cold, slow start to our spring, flowers are blooming all around us. Many of the flowers I've planted this year were selected for their scent in addition to how they look, and now it's clear that this was a great decision: Catching the scent of flowers on the breeze is one of the best parts of being outside in the springtime.

Here's what's blooming now:

Irises, which smell like violets.

Actual violets (which, unsurprisingly, smell like violets).

Chamomile, which smells like apples.

Stock, which smells like cloves and baby powder (which is to say, they smell wonderful enough to make me break my rule against fuchsia flowers).

A close-up of the white stock shows how nice they look, too.

The lilac is a bit past its prime in the looks department, but still smells great.

Sweet woodruff, which smells like vanilla and fresh-cut hay.

Heliotrope, which smells sort of like grapes or fruit punch.

Sweet alyssum, which is rich and heavy like lilies, but isn't overpowering outdoors.

Peonies, which smell sweet and floral, and occasionally a bit lemony.

If we could just get a stretch of weather that allowed for lounging on the porch or eating outside, we could enjoy all these flowers more regularly — hopefully before they fade away!

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Little Benign Neglect

Our chickens were all kinds of out of sorts this spring, pecking each other bare and refusing to lay. Though we tried several interventions to get them to stop, we gave up entirely a couple weeks ago and decided to leave them to their own devices.

And we were rewarded:

Here are Abigail, Rachel, and Martha, all squeezed into the nesting boxes trying to lay at the same time. We are suddenly back up to four eggs a day, though we don’t get them all unless we are very quick:

That dark brown egg is one of Lizzy’s though it’s been pecked apart. I presume she does this herself, because she is (still) stupid and terrible. The other chickens seem to think so, too — just the other day I saw Louisa Catherine oh-so-casually reach over and pull a big beakful of fluff out of Lizzy’s behind and then spit it out with contempt. 

Even with the loss of an egg every other day or so, we’re definitely back where we should always be at this time of year as far as production is concerned. We still have some pecking issues, but we also have eggs, so they can be as mean to each other as they want at this point. 

I still am not really sure what the issue was, but it seems to have resolve itself, and now we suddenly have over two dozen eggs to eat up. 

Quiche tonight!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Progress in the Orchard

Over April vacation (so about three weekends ago now) we finally planted our new apple trees. It was a fairly long day that required first removing several of the older fruit trees that were either dead, dying, or unproductive enough to have lost their place:

The biggest tree we took out was the apricot, seen above in a state of partial completion. It's a shame that this tree never actually bore more than a handful of fruit, because it was well formed, but oh well. 

Once the old trees were removed, we planted the new ones in new holes, creating some more space as we went. Here's the new Winesap in the ground:

All of our new plantings are cocked ever-so-slightly into the prevailing winds, which should give them a little extra purchase and hopefully eliminate the need for staking. 

Once all four new trees were planted, we were left with a rather pockmarked front lawn of bare patches where old trees (and straight-up dead patches of neglected grass) were left behind:

Only one spot where we put a new tree had decent enough sod to use a patch, so we basically cut up one circle of sod and moved it to cover over a spot where a tree used to be:

This worked well, and if you don't know where it is, you can't tell it was a patch job at all. 

The rest of the lawn, on the other hand, needed some serious work. We had to scratch up all the dirt, overseed (we did grass and clover, which is so much easier to grow), and then drive up your water bill for the next three weeks to keep it from dying. All that, and here's what we have:

The clover is easier to see, but there's also grass coming up in this bare spot. The one good thing about these dreary, rainy weeks is that we haven't had to water the grass so much, and it's filling in bit by bit. At this point we've taken down the sprinklers and will only give it a shot of water with the hose during dry spells, and hopefully that will be enough. 

I really, really dislike maintaining a lawn — and we barely have any left to worry about! Grass is so pointless and uses so much water and effort to keep it green. We're even pretty lax about allowing just about any green weed in to fill the space, and it's still a pain. And now that the front yard seems to be on its way, it's time to turn to the back lawn, which is looking just as scraggly and terrible. 


Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Fragrant Shade Garden

Remember the little shade garden outside of our screened-in porch?

Last summer I planted some sweet woodruff, valerian, and lily of the valley in the shadiest part, and it all came up nicely this spring:

This week I filled in the gaps between hosta plants in the partial shade sections with some sweet-smelling annuals: 

The littlest ones in the front are white sweet alyssum. I have these stretching all along the front of this border. The taller plants behind them are stock, which look sort of like ruffled snapdragons and smell really nice: sweet, but also spicy like cloves. Here’s a close-up of one that’s starting to bloom:

There are also some heliotrope in the mix (they’re the ones with the purple buds):

The heliotrope is in the sunniest end of this border, and hopefully it will still be bright enough here once the maple tree leafs out. I also started some seeds in the gaps: evening-scented stock and sweet mignonette, both of which are old Victorian favorites that people used to grow in cottage gardens specifically because they smelled so nice.

I also continued the fragrant garden around the side of the cutting beds closest to the seating area on the porch:  

This spot will also eventually be quite shady once the maple tree has its leaves, so I put in another valerian, two fragrant hosta plants, and a few more stock transplants on the sunnier end. I also sowed the same seeds here, plus some sweet peas farther down the line. All of these things should smell great and be enjoyed on the breeze when sitting on the porch — as long as they get just enough sun to bloom. This is the first full year of the fragrant shade garden, and I’m excited to see how it goes!