Thursday, April 26, 2012

Earth Day, Arbor Day, Wildlife Habitats and Edible landscaping.

This post originally started out as an Earth day post, then turned into an Arbor day post...and finally ended up as a post on edible landscaping. :) It's been one of those weeks.

Earth Day was on April 22, and Arbor Day was April 27th. So often times we will spend the week focusing on trees and planting seeds/ flowers (okay we pretty much do this every week). Last year we planted several fruit trees for Earth day and went on a garbage/recycle walk up our road collecting all the trash and recyclables that people dump.
This year, the weather didn't cooperate with us, and Earth day was cold and rainy, so we spent the entire day inside. The kids started some seeds in pots, and we did some crafts using recyclables. Then with the kids in school all week, we decided to postpone our tree planting until the following weekend...which was Arbor Day weekend.

For those of you who don't already know, Arbor Day foundation is the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees. When you join Arbor day foundation for a $10 donation, you get 10 free trees or if you don't have a place to plant trees you can have 10 trees planted in a national forest in your honor. Kind of cool, eh?

This is the Keifer pear we planted last year. It was a pretty large tree (14 foot) when we put it in, and i was worried that it might not survive the transplant. All the new trees we planted have done really well and are leafing out nicely. We planted the Keifer pear, two black heart cherries and two plum trees. We won't get fruit from any of them this year, but it was nice to see that they survived the winter and have lots of new grown, green leaves and all look very healthy.

This year our plans were to plant several more new trees. We purchased 2 American filberts, 2 American Elderberry, 2 Allegheny service berry, 2 more blueberries and a Nanking cherry.

We chose the American filberts (hazel nuts) because they are a fast growing shrub 8-12' tall, they produce lots of edible nuts, and are also good for wildlife. They are native to the Eastern US, are drought tolerant, grow very fast and do well if planted along a woodland edge. With our limited space for big trees, i think hazelnuts are a good choice for edible landscaping and wildlife habitats.

i really wanted to grow Elderberry because it's one of those plants i have foraged for...but am not completely confident identifying. Elderberry is very high in vitamin C and has a lot of health/medicinal benefits. It can be made into elixir, syrup, jellies, jams and wine. Although Elderberries are native, and i'm quite certain i have them growing on my land i wanted to plant my own, so i could be absolutely positive i was picking elderberries. Rather than risking picking a potentially poisonous look alike. Elderberries are considered easy to grow, are only 6' to 12' feet high and are another great choice for wildlife.

i decided to get the Allegheny service berries kind of on a whim. i was already getting the other trees, and thought these looked interesting. When i was pregnant with my girl, i remember my doula taking about Service berries, and June berries. It was the first time i'd ever heard of them. Service berries are similar to blueberries, but do not require the acidic soil. We love blueberries, and have around 15 established bushes . Blueberries require acidic well draining soil though, and ours have never really done that well. Although they produce every year, they really haven't grown very much and several of them seem to be struggling. The Allegheny service berries are native, easy to grow and produce lots of edible berries. The fruits are sweet and juicy and rich in iron, copper and vitamin C. Native peoples dried the fruits like raisins and used them to prevent scurvy in the winter. This is another tree that will grow well along the edge of woods.

We already have one Nanking Cherry that i always thought was ornamental. The last couple years it started producing a few cherries. So after i looked it up and read a bit about it, i realized if it was better pollinated it could be producing a lot of cherries. Nankings are a great dwarf cherry 6'- 10' that produces tons of small tasty red cherries that are good raw or in pies. It is extremely hardy, has beautiful flowers and if you plant more than one can create a lovely hedge i've read conflicting info on whether it is self pollinating or not. Ours has just started producing cherries, so i thought it was a good idea to get a second one to make sure it's getting adequately they are gorgeous in the spring when they are blooming.

Although it will be several years before we are able to harvest from the new trees, i feel like we have really been making a lot of progress the last couple of years. Even though we took down a few trees to make room for the goats, we have replanted many trees that will benefit both us and the local wildlife.

Monticello Field Trip

My boy and husband recently visited Monticello with the 4th grade class field trip. It was a 3+ hour on the bus ride, for a 1 1/2- 2 hour tour in the rain. As much as i wanted to go, i was really glad that my husband volunteered. ;)

Monticello is a 5,000-acre plantation situated on a mountaintop outside Charlottesville, Virginia. It was the home of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia.

It's really unfortunate that it rained the entire day, as the grounds of Monticello are absolutely beautiful. The actual tour of the inside of the house was only about 20-25 min. while the rest of the tour explored the grounds, basement, wine cellar, many exhibits and the gardens.

Photographs inside the main part of Monticello are not allowed, but they were able to take a few in the basement/cellar and service area of the house. My son was fasinated by the history of Monticello, and came home overflowing with information and details about the tour. They both very much enjoyed it.

The gardens were absolutely amazing. After seeing the pictures they took i kind of wished i had gone, although i really would have been miserable waking around and in the cold rain. The Monticello gardens grow many of the same heirloom varieties that were grown by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson grew 250 varieties of more than 70 different species of vegetables, precisely recording the details of their growth. You can even purchase the seeds harvested from the flowers and vegetables that are grown in the gardens. My husband brought home double columbine, 'Blue Prussian' peas and Purple Calabash Tomato seeds.

i'd really like to go back as a family, and visit during peak garden season. Although i do enjoy the History of the house, i'm most eager to wander around the vegetable and flower gardens :)

We've been working on making a list of our summer plans, which typically include a lot of day trips and weekend trips to explore local museums, zoos, national forests and Historical landmarks. Monticello is definitely on our list for this summer, it would make a great day trip and if we can find some other things to explore in the area we may turn it into an overnight.

"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden."-- Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Purple Garden Progress.

Last month i posted about planning a purple garden this year. We rotated our gardens, so that the potatoes are planted in the new garden space. My cold crops have been moved to the old potato bed, so my front garden which has been primarily cold crops has now been turned into a 'Purple garden'.

Many of my purple vegetables haven't been planted yet, or haven't sprouted yet. It is still too early to plant the purple beans, tomatoes and other things.

Majesty lettuce is just beginning to come in. This is my first time growing it, and i'm really impressed with it's deep burgundy color. It is just gorgeous!!

Purple Asparagus. :) We already have an established asparagus bed, and have harvested enough for two meals already. We lost quite a few shoots with the last frost, but have tons of new shoots emerging, so i think we are going to have a pretty good harvest this year. i thought this purple shoot was pretty.

This is the Redbor kale starting to come in. If the weather stays cool it should turn a deep purple. We absolutely love kale.

Purple cabbage. My family isn't a big fan of cabbage, but i couldn't resist planting it because of the deep color, and even the foliage is tinted in purple. Even if i'm only one to eat it, i think it was worth planting for it's colors alone. :)

These are the Blue podded peas , which will produce lovely purple flowers, and blue/purple podded peas.

Also planted, but not pictured (or coming yet) is Cosmic purple carrots, Violet Sicilian cauliflower, and red velvet lettuce.
Once the danger of frost has passed, i'll be planting the purple bush beans, purple basil, Cherokee purple tomatoes, purple peppers and more!

My husband and son recently went on field trip to Monticello with the 4th grade class, and brought me back some heirloom Purple Calabash Tomato seeds that were actually harvested from the gardens of Monticello. Thomas Jefferson first documented planting these in his garden in 1809. i thought that was pretty neat. :) Although not technically, purple... i will have those in this garden as well. :)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Hiking at the Cascades

The Cascades in Pembroke Virginia is one of our favorite places to hike in the spring. We have come almost every year since moving to Virginia. Although the hike itself is absolutely breathtaking no matter when you visit, i love to come in the early spring when the early wildflowers are blooming.
The Cascades are most known for the incredibly beautiful scenic hike and spectacular 70 foot water fall. We'd heard there were more fall farther up the trail, but have never hiked to them. So this time we decided to check them out.

The main trail to the falls splits into two separate trails. The lower trails, are what we usually take. They are the most scenic, but also a little more strenuous. The upper trails are an easier hike, but the view is not quite as nice. However, because we wanted to hike the extra to get to the upper falls, we decided to take the easier upper trail there, and the lower trail back if we felt up to it.

The upper trails are not really advertised. Infact, when we came to this fork in the trail, the sign only points toward the main falls or back to the parking lot. There was no mention of the upper falls. At this fork, we took the trail to the left that continued up. A little ways up this trail was a sign pointing us in the direction of the conservancy trail and Barney's wall. we continued along this trail, for about 1/2 mile.

The entire trail was extremely muddy. Something to keep in mind if you plan to hike here. About 1/2 mile up the trail we came to a another fork. The main trail went towards the left, and had another sign showing the distances to the conservancy trail and Barney's wall. To get to the upper falls, you need to take the trail the right. It is almost hidden among the Rhododendrons.

The sloping muddy trail spits you out right at the very top of the upper falls.

This doesn't look really capture how magnificent these falls are. We looked around for a way to get to the base of the falls, but there was no real obvious trail. We finally found what looked like little more than a deer trail, that brought us to a little ledge near the base of he falls.

Here i was finally able to get a picture of them. They are most definitely worth the extra 1/2 mile to get to them. It was a little dissapointing that they are so difficult to access, but then again the area was quite secluded and free of other people...which made it really nice. The lower falls are sometimes pretty packed with tourists. The creek before the upper falls, are quite calm and shallow, with rock pools to safely play in, so this may become a new favorite spot for us.

As always i was obsessed with taking picture of the native wildflowers. The Jack in the Pulpits were blooming and coming up everywhere.

The trilliums were also in full bloom. i saw both the Trillium grandiflorum in varieties of white, pale pink and darker pink and also the Trillium erectum, which has the dark maroon flowers. i also saw many different varieties of violets, from white to yellow to purples. Wild phlox, Solomon's Seal, Squawroot, wild geranium, and tons of star chickweed.

We also spotted 6 species of butterflies. Easter Tiger Swallowtails, pipevine swallowtail, cabbage white, red admiral, painted lady and Duskywings.

After leaving the upper falls, we went back and continued on to the lower fall. The entire hike (5 miles round trip) follows the river, and has amazing views like this.

The main falls were as beautiful as ever, however they were busier than i have ever seen them. You can't tell by the picture, but the rocks, benches, trail here were completely packed with people. We usually walk out onto the rocks, but passed it up this time. We hung out for a little while and watched several people slip on the rocks and wipe out while attempting to walk up to the base of the falls. It is always extremely slippery.

We had a fabulous time hiking. The power of the waterfalls always energizes us, and we decided to take the lower (harder) trail back. i thought for sure the kids would be tied and whining by that point...but they were literally running down the trail and we (kenan and i) were struggling to keep up with them. i am so looking forward to summer and these weekend family hikes. Although we have our favorites we love to visit, this year i really hope to explore some new ones too.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spring Break!!

We are officially on spring break!

We have been doing this....

and this....

and a LOT of this!!!

Yay!!!! Spring is here and we are spending as much time as possible playing outside! We have been exploring, pretending, collecting acorn caps, hiking in the woods, wading in the creeks, hunting for salamanders, chasing butterflies, blowing giant bubbles, and planting in the gardens!! This is by far my favorite time of year, so much fun to be had!!!

You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters. ~St. Bernard

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Playing at Panther Creek

This past weekend we spent most of our time outside playing in the garden, hiking in the woods and just enjoying the days,
Just down the road from us a bit, in Dugspur Virginia, is one of our favorite places to play in the spring. We follow Panther creek road along Big Reed Island creek, until we come to our favorite spot. There is a small area to pull over, a trail that leads to Big Reed Island creek, and a trail that follows a smaller creek back into the woods.

It is so hard to get a good pictures of the area, but their are huge rock wall and they are all covered in wild phlox, columbine and bleeding hearts.

i love the wild flowers i find here. These are the Wild Phlox.

The family loves sitting up on this huge rock that overlooks the creek. i admit it makes me a bit nervous, but it's actually not as scary once you are up there as it looks in the picture.

There is a small trail near the big rock that leads down to the water. The energy from the water rushing over the rocks here is just amazing. It truly leaves you feeling energized and alive.

My favorite part of coming here is wandering into the woods looking for wildflowers. i always find lots of common wildflowers, like the anemones, columbine and the wood violets. This time i found one i wasn't familiar with at all. It's a very interesting plant, with a spray of these tiny flowers. When we got home, i spent quite a bit of time online trying to figure out what it is. It isn't listed in my wildflower book.
The plant is called Yellowroot, and is named for it's yellow roots. The roots were used by Native Americans to produce a yellow dye.

This would have been an awesome picture if it was in better focus. All along the tops of these rocks were wild bleeding hearts. The rocks were over 6 feet tall, so it was hard to climb up to get the picture...but there is probably 6-8 feet of the bleeding hearts all in a row.

As we follow the little creek in the woods, there are a series of small pools and waterfalls that the kids love to play in. Sage loves to find salamanders and their are little fish and crawdads that dart about in the pools.

Although i have never seen a rattlesnake here, i have been told that they can often be seen sunning themselves on the big rocks in the summer.

The farther we walk up, the mountain the more water falls and pools. Each one just as fantastic as the last.

As we were leaving we passed a huge puddle at the entrance of a two track. i asked kenan yto pull over so i could check for tadpoles, and the puddle was full of them!! So i scooped up a few and brought them home. The last few years we've raised tadpoles, and this year will no different. :) It is always fun to watch them turn into frogs.

i love this time of year! We go hiking and exploring every chance that we can. i'd really like to find some new places to explore this year, although i'm also eager to visit some of our favorites like the Cascades, and the Grayson Highlands. The kids start spring break this week, so we are already making plans for a few places to hike. My boy wants to plan our hiking around local Bigfoot sightings, while my girl is determined to find Totoro.

My father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing. ~Aldous Huxley