artichoke harvest

Growing artichokes is very much like a long friendship of the sort that, once established, requires little and gives a lot.

I longed to grow these gloriously elegant, edible flowers. I did try, in London – not enough sun, too many snails. And in Sussex – another failure, do start the seeds in late January! One must be patient with an artichoke’s youth, though if you really have started early enough to catch some cold weather, you may see flowers that summer. Finally at our lakeside garden, the seedlings sprouted very well, and grew into tender adolescents.

A year later they took off with impressive splendour and soon we harvested the giant buds. To prepare them, we cut the base flat, and stand them in a bit of water, covered, to steam for a very long twenty minutes, during which there is plenty of time to melt butter and squeeze lemon into finger bowls.

When a low leaf pulls softly away, it is time. With our largest mixing bowl ready in the center of the table to catch the great leaf-pile, and tiny bowls of lemon butter at each place, we pluck petal after petal from the outside of the artichoke, dipping, scraping teeth over leaf to graze the softest bit. More patience required, but the sweetest kind. This is most definitely a seductive food. I help the children when they reach the heart, prickly on one side and still protected under tiny leaves on the other. If you pry at a slight angle, with a sharp knife, you can separate the itchy prickles from the artichoke heart without much trouble. Then a buttery, lemony chin is inevitable, as is a bit of rapture.

All this for a bit of water, a haircut in late summer, a mulch before winter. Resilient plant. These artichokes may be our companions for twenty years! What a pleasing thought.

bird bath

Bird baths in a garden are such beautiful, useful things. I’d love to have an old ornate one, in a spot where birds can bathe safely, where we can entice birds into the garden to observe and sustain them, and contribute a little to a balanced ecosystem.

bird bath © elisa rathje 2012

We visited a friend’s garden that provided clean, clear pools of water in a pair of bird baths by a fishpond. Tiny birds would swoop in to clean their feathers, drink, and nip off into a tree to preen. They feed on bugs and pest in the garden. Supporting wild creatures by planting varieties of flowers that honeybees love, building beehouses and bat boxes, leaving old wood for hedgehogs, I like these ideas. Instead of trying to get rid of pests, attracting creatures to balance the others. Nosing just a tiny way into permaculture.

bird bath © elisa rathje 2012

(Of course, now I’m thinking about making one, but that’s a project for another day!) Like a pet’s drinking bowl, bird baths need to be cleaned and filled now and then. I love that they’re such peaceful things to sit by, as spring appears. Spring! Catch great seasonal things you’ll love in the appleturnover postcards.

digless garden

Some folks call it laziness. Other folks say it’s better for the earth. Either way, I’m going about preparing my veg patch in an unconventional way. I won’t be digging it over, not disturbing the soil at all. I’m trying a no-dig garden.

cardboard-patch.jpg

Some gardeners say that digging a bed over releases too much carbon from the soil, and disturbs its structure. That the soil suffers a setback and has to recover before it really can produce much. At this stage I’ve got some really beautiful soil, but it’s full of weeds, so I’m “sheet mulching,” putting down newsprint and cardboard, and wetting it, to suppress the weeds. I haven’t decided if I will mulch on top of this, and plant right through it when things warm up, or if I’ll just remove the cardboard later on once the grasses beneath are gone.

raspberry-patch.jpg

I’ve only just begun to lay down paper around the raspberry canes I put in, again to suppress the weeds. It isn’t pretty, but hopefully will make short work of weeding and preparing the soil. It’s an organic solution, and it’s my first venture into permaculture. I’m a bit undecided about what I’m going to grow here, due to complex variables including rabbits, deer, travel plans, and you don’t want to know. If all else fails, it will sit undisturbed til late summer when I hope to put in a winter garden of hearty greens. There’s always the pumpkin route, which I may take, and grow other things in the greenhouse and up on my deck. If I decide to leave the digless garden all summer I will put down layers across the whole patch, of straw, leaf mould, and compost, and leave the earthworms to do their work. Fingers crossed.