LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 38

That Champion Red Oak tree drops a massive quantity of leaves and I’ve just spent much of the last week picking these up, schlepping each garbage can load to the compost pile. Phase two of spring gardening also included cutting back the few perennials I did not trim last fall and transplanting those I’d noted in need of a different location.

I’m happy that I’m home from Texas before anything here has bloomed and just in the nick of time for the always-early blossoms on our meadowlark forsythia.

Jim has removed the straw mulch from the garlic and I’ve removed the leaf mulch from the strawberries. He’s also trimmed back the raspberries and planted potatoes and lettuce and peas and more. I’ve removed the bittersweet vine that the rabbits severed last winter and found more serious rabbit damage to cuss at — will have to do something about that next fall. Lizzie, the springer spaniel, has done a real number on the grass this past winter, something I will need to attend to soon.

The tulips have emerged and will bloom soon, and the aspens are heavy with catkins. I’m relieved their tiny lime green leaves did not unfurl before I returned. It is dry here and we had to bite the bullet and start the sprinkler system.

The seedlings we started in the furnace room are thriving and Jim has given away all of his surplus tomatoes. He was so eager to get these planted and did so —  25 planted Monday. I’m the more cautious gardener and wait until late in May for my flower seedlings. Because these annuals are in an unfenced area, I have to wait until the seedlings are fairly large in the hopes that the rabbits won’t munch ‘em.

We’ve eaten the first of our asparagus and it was mighty tasty.

I squeezed in some birding Saturday morning with the Bis/Man Birding Club. Here at Red Oak House, the white-throated sparrows are passing through and I am listening to the buzz of the newly arrived clay-colored sparrows. Sunday brought the first chu-bek of the least flycatcher. We are eager for the house wrens to return.

I’ve made my first run at a nearby garden center and my list included grass seed for that hammered lawn. I’ve also done damage assessment, and two irises have died in an exposed area where I failed to mulch last fall. I should know better. I also found more damage from the danged rabbits. Jim knows when he hears me cussing out loud that it is likely at rabbits.

These are the days when most of our time is spent in our garden. We eschew meetings in retirement, but particularly during this time of the year.

For my birthday this week, Jim granted my wish and bought me this sweet Buddda for the garden, along with a marvelous trip to Adams County on a blue-sky-puffy-cloud-meadowlark-day. We devoured twist cones at the Hettinger cafe and went down many memory lanes.

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” — David Hume

DAVE VORLAND: Photo Gallery — Sights Of Spring

Spring has finally sprung in the Midwest, as Bloomington, Minn., photographer Dave Vorland’s most recent images show. But it hasn’t been like that since its start March 20, when the landscape was snow-filled and trees were bare.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Rollin’ Up Our Sleeves

It is the tradition for members of the Badlands Conservation Alliance to do a day of service, usually in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, on the weekend closest to Earth Day. On this past Saturday, we did just that, rollin’ up our sleeves for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in the heart of the Bad Lands, our sacred landscape.

I’ve been involved with a service event on Earth Day since 1970, when we schoolkids from Rhame, N.D., picked up trash from state Highway 12 ditches. I often think back to that day.

Photo by Jim Fuglie.
Photo by Jim Fuglie.

The moment Jim and I arrived in the park, we headed straight to the banks of the Little Missouri River, as is our tradition. The river is big right now, filled with snowmelt. It drove us both a little bonkers to not be canoeing.

Duty called, and we gathered with 21 other dedicated souls in the parking area of Cottonwood Campground, where Ranger Grant expressed the gratitude of the park for our service and gave us our directions. It was a beautiful spring day, after a very long winter.

Photo by Jim Fuglie.
Photo by Jim Fuglie.

We fanned out across the campground and went to work, cleaning out the ashes from the fire grates and picking up litter and fallen branches, preparing the place for the summer camping season.

There were a few campers in one campground loop, and from these I recruited a new member, who curious about what we were up to, offered to join us in the chores. In our midst were Bart and Julie Koehler, traveling with their Scamp camper from Florida to their Alaska home, and delighted for the occasion to be with old friends in a beloved place. When all was ship-shape, we celebrated Bart’s birthday with a cake and song.

The rest of the weekend was play time for all, with drives and hikes throughout the park, where lots of wildlife was spotted. Sunday morning, Earth Day proper, Jim and I put in extra effort and located the first crocus (pasque flower) of the season.

The spring peepers were singing in the Paddock Creek wetlands, and all was well on a sunny 65-degree day with no wind. Every time we stopped, we reveled in meadowlark song.

If you are interested in joining in future BCA fun, find the details about upcoming events here.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” — Albert Einstein

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Thoughts Of Spring, Tomatoes And Peppers On A Cold Winter Day

Note: I am reprinting (reposting?) below a story I first ran three years ago this week. It’s about tomatoes. I was thinking about it because today I am preparing my basement “greenhouse” for spring.

I’m getting ready to plant peppers, which need to be started indoors really early because they take a long time to ripen on the bush. We harvested about three dozen last fall, but last fall was an exception because we never got a hard frost in all of September, so we were able to leave them on the plants to ripen until Oct. 8, the day before the Weather Service warned us it was going to freeze.

Most of them still hadn’t turned from green to red or yellow or orange, like they are supposed to, at that time, so we put them in tightly closed big paper grocery bags (they’ll give you some at Dan’s Supermarket if you don’t have any) with a banana and an apple, and sat them in a warm place inside, and in about 10 days they had turned beautiful colors and were pretty much all ripe. Apples and bananas give off ethylene gas, which helps ripen other fruits, like peppers. And you can make banana bread or apple crisp when you’re done.

But this year, I’m going to try to avoid the need to do that, by starting my peppers indoors next week, on Feb. 15, a month ahead of my tomatoes. The plants will be pretty big by the time I put them outside about May 15, but I have plenty of room inside, so it will be a grand experiment.

By the way, in case you’re wondering what I did with more than 30 sweet bell peppers last October, let me share a tip. I cut the tops off, scooped out the seeds and the membranes, and blanched them in boiling water for 5 minutes. Then after cooling them in ice water, I drained them and dried them with a dish towel and put them on cookie sheets and put them in the freezer. When they were frozen, I transferred them to big Ziploc bags. We’ve been eating stuffed peppers, which we love, all winter. This year, I’m going to try roasting some before I freeze them. I think they’ll be good in salads, soups and on pizza.

Anyway, this started out to be a reprint of my story about Golden Bison tomatoes, which, by the way, turned out to be a big hit, not just at our house but with lots of friends to whom I have given plants. I’ve been saving my own seeds every year since 2015, and I’ll start a bunch this year, too. If you want a plant or two, come by the house about May 15. Here’s the Golden Bison story. Oh, and Happy  Belated Birthday, Clay.

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Here’s a story about the best customer service ever. Even better than the lady who almost bankrupted Herberger’s.

It started last March when Lillian and I attended a presentation by Robert Hanna of the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation at the former North Dakota Governor’s Mansion.

Robert’s Foundation has taken over the interpretation of the Oscar H. Will Seed Co., and has a display of the company’s early products at their Interpretive Center in Washburn, N.D. That cold March night, Robert spent about an hour telling us about the Will company, complete with displays of seed packets sold by the company more than 100 years ago. (For a brief history of the company, founded here in the 1880s, go here.)

What caught our attention was a handout Robert gave us at the end of the session, listing the various places you still could purchase seeds once sold by the Will Co. We read that a company in Oregon had preserved one of Will’s heirloom tomato varieties called Golden Bison. We ordered some of the seeds last spring, planted them, and they were our best-producing tomato last summer. And early. We were eating them Aug. 12. And they kept producing right up until freeze-up.

Fast forward to Jan. 21 when I got a call from my friend, Sheila (pronounced Shy-la), inviting me to a birthday party — a small, intimate dinner she and our friend, Valerie, were hosting on Feb. 4 for our friend Clay. Clay was going to turn 60 that day, so she said that, for a present, we should bring 60 of something. That’s Sheila.

We puzzled over it for a bit. Clay likes wine and books, but 60 bottles of wine or six 10-year-old bottles of wine were a bit out of our price range, even if we could find them, and 60 books would be insignificant in that house of his with thousands of books, even if we could find 60 he hadn’t read, which is unlikely, unless there are 57 more books in the “50 Shades of Grey” series.

But almost simultaneously, Lillian and I hit on the perfect solution: Seeds. And not just any seeds. 60 Golden Bison heirloom tomato seeds. Golden Bison tomatoes were bred in North Dakota in 1932 by horticulturist A. F.  Yeager at the North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University, winner of four straight national football championships — sorry, couldn’t resist). Yeager was a pioneer in developing tomato strains for the northern tier of states, with short growing seasons. He did much of his research in Bottineau County, North Dakota, which is about as “northern” as you can get and still be in the U.S. He is credited with developing 14 varieties of tomatoes. I don’t know what happened to the other 13, but the identity of Golden Bison has been preserved all these 80-plus years, and they are great tomato plants, as I mentioned earlier. You can read about them by going here.

You should know that you can’t just buy any old ordinary seeds for Clay. He is a devout North Dakotan and personifies all things Dakota. The Golden Bison would be perfect for him.  The problem was, we didn’t have any, and time was short. We thought we could just write up a card saying they had been ordered and were on their way, and give it to him, which would have been fine, but not great.

So, Jan. 24, I went to the website of Adaptive Seeds and pulled up the order form for Golden Bison, and ordered three packets, each of which had 30 seeds — two for Clay (60 total) and one for us. When I clicked on “checkout,” there was a message that said they were really busy this time of the year, and we should allow a few weeks for delivery. That was OK because we were just going to give him the card with the note anyway.

But down at the bottom of the order form was a box that said “Comments welcome.” So I thought, what the heck, I’ll send them a note. I wrote that the seeds were for a birthday present  for a friend having a 60th birthday on Feb. 4 and that their Golden Bison seeds would be  special for him because they were bred in North Dakota, and he was a true North Dakotan, and if there was any way they could get the seeds to us before Feb. 4, that would be appreciated, but if not, that was OK, too. I pushed “send” about 6 p.m. Saturday evening, Jan. 24.

On Jan. 27, the mailman brought us a manila envelope full of seeds from Adaptive Seeds, postmarked on their end Jan. 25. Sunday. The day after I had ordered them at 6 o’clock in the evening.

Inside were three packets of Golden Bison tomato seeds. Along with most of our other garden seeds for the year — I had liked their website so well — it was so friendly — that I decided to just forget the other 32 or so seed catalogs we had on the shelf and get most of this year’s stuff from them.

Here’s some of the seed catalogs we got so far this year. I have never ordered from most of these, so all I can think of is they swap mailing lists. I’m not complaining. They brighten up otherwise dreary winter days when they come in the mail.
Here’s some of the seed catalogs we got so far this year. I have never ordered from most of these, so all I can think of is they swap mailing lists. I’m not complaining. They brighten up otherwise dreary winter days when they come in the mail.

So there were carrot seeds, beans, mesclun, basil, lettuce, sugar snap peas, radishes and three other varieties of tomatoes. The whole order, most of what we would need for this summer’s garden, was just a shade over $50.

At the bottom of the receipt, it said the order was processed at 5:13 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. Just 23 hours after I had ordered.

But the best thing was the handwritten note at the bottom of the receipt. It said “Thanks for your order! I hope your friend has a Happy Birthday. Happy sowing. Sarah” Accompanied by a drawing of a happy face.

Seeds ordered from Oregon on Saturday night. Seeds delivered to Bismarck on Tuesday afternoon. That is incredible customer service. Generally, when you buy things online, there is little or no human contact. One computer talking to another. Not with Adaptive Seeds. They have real people there. Real friendly people.

Better yet, to paraphrase, the proof of the tomatoes is in the eating. We ate them last year, and they were great. Even better than that, they are North Dakota bred, identity preserved, heirloom  tomatoes.

When we gave them to Clay on Wednesday night, we offered to start some for him when we start ours in March because we know he is on the road a lot. We’re going to start a whole bunch anyway. So, if you are in Bismarck, or close by, and you want a couple plants, let me know,  and come by May 15 to pick them up. That’s the day we plant outside. We’ll have plenty.

Or, you can just go to the Adaptive Seed website, order some, along with your other garden seeds, and start your own. As Sarah would say, “Happy Sowing.”

JEFF OLSON: Photo Gallery — Spring Sights

Flowers and dogs. That’s what Alexandria, Va., photographer Jeff Olson has been seeing a lot of lately. Hurray for spring!

JEFF OLSON: Photo Gallery — Spring Beauty

Spring is a time of renewal. These blooming flowers, which recently caught the eye of Alexandria, Va., photographer Jeff Olson, reminds us of that.

JEFF OLSON: D.C.’s Rawlins Park

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Some scenes at Rawlins Park, across from the U.S. Department of the Interior, in Washington, D.C.

JEFF OLSON: Northern Virginia Crocuses

 

springflower2It looks like spring has sprung in northern Virginia. These crocuses showed themselves Friday at Downtown Del Ray, Alexandria, Va.

 

JEFF OLSON: A Cardinal Rule

cardinal

It doesn’t matter how much snow is on the ground in northern Virginia because when these guys show up and start singing — and courting the ladies — spring is not too far behind.