The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

November 5, 2014

Cold temperatures improve the taste of lettuce

Filed under: Vegetables — bob @ 10:31 am

Our recent frosts have put an end to all of the warm season vegetable crops like tomatoes, peppers and squash.

The cool weather crops on the other hand are still hanging in there, even though the colder temperatures have slowed down their growth rate.

The flavor of leafy vegetables, like lettuce, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and the like, is enhanced by light to moderate frosts. Root crops like carrots, and especially parsnips, sweeten up after exposure to cold temperatures.

Light frosts enhance lettuce flavor. Be aware that wintry temperatures will eventually kill them.

Light frosts enhance lettuce flavor. Be aware that wintry temperatures will eventually kill them.

The mechanism behind this phenomenon involves plant carbohydrates. Starches and sugars are different types of carbohydrates that are present in plants. When the plant is exposed to cold temperatures the starches get converted into various sugars that sweetens the flavor. This is the main reason why you should never keep potatoes in the refrigerator, it is the starches that give potatoes their distinct flavor.

Lettuce, cabbage and kale will eventually winter kill as the  season progresses. It takes quite a bit to kill Brussels sprouts, they can survive well into November getting more flavorful with each frost but they too will eventually freeze and die back.






October 23, 2014

Atlanta Botanical Garden “Imaginary Worlds” through October

Filed under: Events — bob @ 10:21 am

If you are planning to drive south this month to escape our Michigan winter, think about adding a stop at the Atlanta, GA Botanical Gardens to experience their Imaginary Worlds exhibition.

Cobra sculpture

Cobra sculpture

The gardeners/artists of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens teamed up with International Mosaciculture of Montreal to create fabulous  works of living art.


Cobra ready to strike.

Thousands of annuals are growing on metal forms covered with netting and growing medium to bring to life these fanciful sculptures.

Plants and water together create a wonderful effect.

Plants and water together create a wonderful effect.

Imaginary Worlds is the first major exhibition of its kind in the U.S.

Gorillas in the garden

Gorillas in the garden

The earth Goddess is 25 feet tall.

The earth Goddess is 25 feet tall.

Not much time is left though, the giant topiary exhibition closes at the end of October.


September 25, 2014

Monarch butterfly tags

Filed under: Insects — bob @ 2:36 pm

Monarch butterflies are on the move heading south on their annual migration. Look closely next time you spot a Monarch and you might see a flash of white against the orange and black pattern of their wings, it very well could be a marked butterfly.

We spotted one last week near Ann Arbor. It was flying and feeding on flowers in the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

I mentioned in a previous blog how the Monarch population has dwindled. Several groups, professional and amateur alike, are studying Monarchs trying to learn more about their behavior during migration. The butterfly we found was tagged by someone working with a group called Monarch Watch, a conservation education and research organization.

Each ultra-light weight polypropylene wing tag has an identification number and an email address printed on it to report your find.

I’m hoping that we found “our” butterfly after it flew and long and arduous journey from somewhere far away. But it could just as well have been tagged and released that day by someone nearby.

Tags are placed in a specific spot on the butterfly wing to minimize flight interference.

Tags are placed in a specific spot on the butterfly wing to minimize flight interference.

All tagging information is placed in a data base. Monarch Watch contacts both the tagger and the person finding the butterfly with the location of where it was tagged and found and, how far it traveled.

Most of the tagged butterflies in the United States and Canada are found dead. Ours however looked to be a strong flyer.

Reporting tagged butterflies helps researchers learn how Monarchs move across north america to their wintering places in Mexico.




September 9, 2014

Plant for winter harvest

Filed under: Vegetables — bob @ 8:27 pm

One major task in my garden this week was planting seeds for a winter crop of produce.

I have a small, unheated greenhouse — sometimes called a high tunnel — that I built last year out of salvaged parts. That’s where I sowed my seeds. In our climate, most winters are too harsh for winter crops to survive without some kind of protection.

In years past I’ve harvested winter produce from simple homemade cold frames made from window sash, low plastic covered tunnels and other kinds of structures. The secrete is to make sure the structure gets adequate sunlight and that it is air tight to keep frigid winter drafts from freezing the plants.

I was able to plant the entire floor area of my greenhouse with spinach, winter onions, radishes, beets and a couple of different types of lettuce — all cool weather vegetables. The seeds were left over from my spring crop.


Part of the greenhouse planting

Part of the greenhouse planting

I’ve tried setting out transplants late in the season, they just don’t seem to be as hardy as plants grown from seed in place.

When the really cold weather hits, those plants will hardly grow at all, even when protected inside a structure. By sowing seeds now, the plants will have plenty of time to get to a usable size before they go into hibernation. Once they are established they will become accustomed to the falling temperatures and will be more likely to survive.

Time is running short for those who want to try growing produce for winter harvest.








August 28, 2014

Heirloom apple tree 14 year odyssey

Filed under: Fruit — bob @ 3:11 pm

Fourteen years ago I planted a ‘Lord’s Seedling’ apple tree, an heirloom variety. It transplanted well and made really great growth the first three years.

Then during the winter of the fourth year, disaster struck. Under the snow, near the base of the tree, mice chewed the bark all of the way around the trunk, girdling it.

That spring the tree leafed out normally. Somehow, it stayed green the entire season. It didn’t make any growth of course because the connection  between the roots and the top was severed.

I could have tried to repair the damage by grafting but I was very busy that spring and never got to it. I decided to just write it off.

The next spring, a few shoots sprang up from what was left of the roots. Most of the shoots were from the root-stock, the part of the tree on to which the Lord’s Seedling was grafted on to at the nursery. Those shoots would never produce a Lord’s Seedling apple because they have a different genetic background.

Looking closer, I noticed one tiny bud looked like it may have been above the point where the tree was grafted. That meant it could have been a Lord’s Seedling bud.

I removed all of the shoots from the rootstock except that one bud. I nursed that bud and later it grew into a vigorous shoot.

During the following years, that bud became a tree. I still had no idea if it was a Lord’s Seedling tree or just a tree grown from the rootstock.

Russeting is considered a defect in the commercial apple world. On Lord's Seedling apple  the gorgeous golden-brown russet is a part of it's normal appearance.

Russeting is considered a defect in the commercial apple world. On Lord’s Seedling apple the gorgeous golden-brown russet is a part of it’s normal appearance.

This year, the tree grew a full crop of apples and I was finally able to see what variety it really is. Low and behold, turns out it is a Lord’s Seedling tree after all.

I took an educated gamble on the tree and it took until now to finally pay off.


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