Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sudden Spring and Other Things

These crocuses survived the recent snow.

This week has been absolutely gorgeous. The temperatures are in the 60s and 70s, the sky is blue, and flowers are coming up all over. It really feels like spring. The trouble is, of course, that it isn't spring. A couple weeks ago we had six inches of snow and some of the coldest temperatures seen here for decades. Next week the temperatures are supposed to drop below normal, into the 20s again. So everyone here is sniffling and coughing. Our crocuses and daffodils are blooming. The crocuses can survive the snow; they came right back after the snow melted, but the daffodils will get zapped if they bloom right now. I tried to cover them with mulch to protect them from the snow but they powered right through the mulch and here they are. I guess I will bring a bouquet into the house.

Stargazer lilies

Besides feeling like spring, it smells like spring here as well. That's because I found a pot of Stargazer lilies on clearance at the grocery after Valentine's Day and brought them home. These are my favorite flowers, along with gardenias and roses. I love their fragrance. The bulbs must taste sweet, though, because I have a terrible time keeping them from being eaten in the garden. If I plant them in the back the dogs dig them up and eat them. Last year I planted some in the front and chipmunks dug them up and ate them. This year I may try to grow some in our fence boxes, maybe with chicken wire over top of the soil to keep critters out.

The whole house is fragrant with lilies. I wonder if my grandmother had these a lot or used the scent in home spray or something, because the other day when I walked in the back door it was suddenly as if I was walking into her house. It smelled just the same! I would guess we have only a day or two left before these flowers are done, but I certainly have enjoyed them this week. I will plant these bulbs in the fence boxes as well and see if they return next year.

Since it's nice and warm we have been taking advantage by getting out into the garden. I put compost the other day and today I hope to get out and till it in. I used our Amazon points to buy a dual drum compost tumbler last year. We've been happy with it for the most part, but I wasn't thrilled when I found out how hard it is to get the compost out. You'd think you could just turn it upside down and it would pour out, right? Wrong! It sticks all  in there and the opening isn't wide enough for a shovel. I tried using a spade, carrying the drums all around beating them on the ground, scraping it with a stick... finally I just reached in and pulled all the compost out with my hands (wearing gloves of course)! At least I got my upper body workout for the weekend!

Wild chives

I guess I've taught the children well, because my daughter came home from school the other day with a wild chive she'd picked. She thought it was an herb she recognized and when I confirmed it she and my son went out and picked a whole bunch. People around here call this "wild garlic". At home they call it "onion grass". The garden columnist for the paper actually wrote an article the other day about how it's a "weedy nuisance" this time of year. I was shocked!

Far from a nuisance, it's a great money saver! It's easy to see, because it sprouts in lawns before the grass grows up around it. It looks like greener, thicker grass, but you can recognize it further from its onion smell. When it's growing we travel all around picking it. It's especially abundant in municipal lawns, like in school yards. If you see it in your neighbor's yard ask if you can harvest it. Wash it very well (you don't know what anyone else might have sprayed in their yard). A 50/50 hydrogen peroxide and water mixture works well for washing. Then spin the chives dry in a salad spinner or set out on paper towels until dry, chop, and freeze. I just throw mine in freezer bags, but some people prefer to mix theirs with olive oil and freeze them in ice cube trays. Then you remove the cubes and keep them in a Ziploc bag so you can throw them into any recipe where they are needed. Herbs are so expensive, and frozen taste so much better than dried. Instead of treating this plant as a weed, why not EAT it and get it out of your yard that way? Another "weed" that doesn't give us any trouble? Dandelions. We eat these in salads or sauteed in omelets and soups before they ever get big enough to reproduce. In fact, I have to scout out less vigilant neighbors and municipal areas to supply us with dandelion greens, because ours have stopped growing in self defense!

This year I want to expand the garden by several feet. We took a ton of saplings out to open up more room. I wish I knew a farmer with a truck who might give me some manure. It kills me to pay for it! Speaking of farmers, I've been trying for over a decade to convince the husband that I NEED to buy some goats or a cow and especially some chickens and a herd of alpaca. When my grandfather, who owned a popcorn farm, died I tried so hard to convince him to buy it. The farm had formerly been a sheep farm and the barns were still all set up for sheep, perfect for alpaca as well, but no luck!

An alpaca

He was nice enough to drive us to Concord yesterday for the Carolina Alpaca Celebration. The kids loved visiting the sweet alpacas, and I was able to scout out some farmers around here who might be willing to sell me raw roving. There doesn't seem to be any kind of corporate alpaca fiber industry in this country. I don't understand it. Alpaca is the second softest natural fiber. It's softer than cashmere. The only softer wool is vicuna, and they can only thrive in the remote Peruvian mountains, tended by nomadic herders. So, vicuna aren't a really viable livestock option here in the States.

Alpaca ranchers get ready to show their livestock.

The alpaca farmers at the show seemed surprised that anyone was interested in buying their fiber. Evidently the alpaca business model primarily involves breeding and selling the animals. I feel hopeful that I might find a good supply of wool around here. I found a farm in Boone and another in Marshville willing to sell me their rovings. So if we can agree on a price I'll soon be swimming in economical fiber for felting and doll making and even spinning.

The kids wanted stuffed animals made of alpaca. They were super-soft, but a teddy bear about 8 inches tall cost $60. Instead, I bought a bag of carded fiber and promised to make them animals. I hope to start on those tonight. If I have any alpaca left over or if my purchasing plan works out I may be selling more felted dolls and animals in my store, so please check: http://stores.ebay.com/atelier-mandaline.





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