We’re overwhelmed (in a good way!) by everyone’s responses to our announcement about The Woks of Life‘s new HQ. Thank you everyone for your kind words and excitement around the next steps for our family and the blog!
In that post, the photos we shared were mostly from last fall and winter, but a crazy amount of stuff has happened since then, from snapping turtle sightings, to spring blooms coming and going, and fruits popping up in our little “orchard.”
Now that the cat’s out of the bag about the move, we’d love to show you around the garden, how it’s evolved over the last few months of spring, and what’s going on now!
regular updates from the homestead!
This is the start of what we’re hoping is a regular cadence of updates of what’s going on around the garden, with the animals, and of course, our Chinese vegetable efforts in particular!
But also…we have more pictures of our furry and feathery animal charges than we know what to do with, so naturally we have to share them or we may just burst.
Let’s Start At the Beginning
Back in March, the place was still in hibernation, but we did have some new visitors—namely, a flock of Canada geese, that told us that spring was around the corner. Their presence had its pros and cons.
On the one hand, you had fun watching them gracefully gliding across the pond and dunking their heads into the water with their tails in the air to eat plants.
On the other hand, they hOnked very loudly upon approaching the pond (early!) each morning. And they pooped EVERYWHERE.
With the recent bird flu outbreak floating around, we had to keep the chickens in the coop more often to protect them from exposure!
Barley, a little stressed out that none of us seemed alarmed by the sudden appearance of our new guests.
Having dined on mostly hay through the winter, the herd was eagerly anticipating the arrival of fresh grass in their pasture (they graze in the pond area, and in their paddock).
We started slow with gardening projects, like these alpine rockfoil flowers that I planted in these sitting rocks on the patio:
I’m suspicious that a chipmunk lives in the little rock wall I created, but for now innocent until proven guilty…
Meanwhile, we awaited the bulbs that we’d planted last fall, as well as what we thought might be lots of bulbs already in the ground from previous growing seasons.
It was a bit like watching a very long, drawn out show, waiting to see what would pop out of the ground all around the property…
The first of the Spring Flowers Emerging
As it turns out, it was kind of anti-climactic! There weren’t a ton of spring perennials, but we did find some gems.
The first to pop out were hellebores, which were in the bed near the barn, behind a Japanese maple, which offered the shade that these flowers like as the spring days got longer and the tree filled out with its spindly red leaves.
We first noticed tons of matted leaves from last season, which I started to remove. Then we discovered the beginnings of flowers underneath. Once we removed all of last year’s foliage, they took off!
We had several types, ranging from a deep mauve to lime green and white.
There were also some daffodils and irises down by the stream in what we’re calling the “woodland” area, behind the chicken coop. Also skunk cabbage. Lots of it!
Some hostas, snowdrops, clematis and peonies began to pop up too…
But we had big ambitions for flowers goshdarnit, so we immediately went out and bought a bunch of bulbs and roots to plant around the place, which we spent an entire day doing (in addition to an unreasonable amount of pre-weeding, of course).
We planted astilbes and hostas in shady areas, cannas and gladiolus in sunny spots, more irises and clematis, lilies, dahlias, sedum, and perovskia.
All these things seem to be getting a slow start, but hopefully they’ll hit their stride come summer.
For next year, we have big plans for more bulbs to plant in the fall! I may have placed an order for 200 daffodil bulbs and 100 tulips during a fall bulb sale…he he.
We also started to see flowers on the shrubs and trees, like the viburnum and magnolia below:
The bulbs that we’d planted last fall started to make an appearance, including bright pink tulips in front of the house, and purple tulips on the side of the house and in front of the cottage.
Without many early spring bulbs like crocus, muscari, daffodils, and tulips, it felt like the garden kind of crept into being over the course of a month or two.
PLANTING MORE! (seriously, we can’t control ourselves)
But that slow start just made us jump in further. We took perennial weeds out of the many beds around the place. We even used the giant fire pit built by previous owners as a makeshift cold frame for young flower and ornamental grass seedlings (using a big sheet of plastic we saved from the delivery of a new mattress months earlier).
A cold frame is a transparent outdoor box of sorts, where you can keep plants protected from cold weather, while still allowing light (and air, if you open them up a bit) to get to the plants.
A tour of the Fruit “orchard”
Okay so maybe “orchard” is a generous term BUT, we are trying our luck at nurturing the existing fruit trees on the property along with some new additions:
And a new peach tree to join the existing one we have. The photo on the left below is the young tree in flower earlier in spring, and the picture on the right is what it looks like now.
Here’s a photo of the mature peach tree that was already on the property, which was formerly a peach orchard in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Before we planted the little tree above, this was the last remaining peach tree.
In the photo below, you can see the beginnings of a paw paw (or several paw paws? I have no idea how these things grow).
So what in the heck is a paw paw? We asked ourselves the same when we first moved in. Well apparently, the fruit is native to the eastern United States, and tastes like a mix of mango, banana, and pineapple.
Paw paw trees take 4 to 8 years to produce fruit, so we feel lucky that this one is already mature and fruiting.
In other words, paw paw recipes may be in your future! (Or at least, attempts at paw paw recipes.)
Our two blueberry bushes also flowered! We’ll see if we get blueberries or not—we haven’t been successful in previous years. There is something about gardening that requires eternal optimism…
What would monty do?
If you love gardening, trust us when we say—if you’re not watching longstanding BBC show Gardeners World, YOU’RE MISSING OUT!
This has become our favorite show (in particular, helping us keep our spirits up over the last couple years), and there are gardening tips from experts like Monty Don, gentle host of the show and a cast of characters from viewer-shared videos from around the world.
One such guest made the excellent point that gardening is like stepping into your future life. In spite of mixed results in the past, we can’t help but feel hopeful about our blueberry-filled future.
While our soil is generally acidic and good for plants like rhododendrons and azaleas, blueberries like SUPER acidic soil—with a pH between 4.3 to 5.5. We used an organic fertilizer for acid-loving plants, so we’ll see how these bushes do!
miscellaneous shrubs and yes, more flowers!
In April, we brought in some more shrubs and flowers.
We got two flowering quinces called “Orange Storm,” which flower in spring:
We also put some snapdragons, creeping jenny, and pink petunias in pots on the front porch and in in planters outside the kitchen door…
A mix of flower pot stands makes the front door to the house look so cheerful and whimsical! Instead of buying them new (they can be a little pricey depending on where you go—that goes for just about all things gardening), we picked up almost all of these at garage / rummage sales over the years.
We also put pink evening primroses and Iceland poppies in the bed in front of the cottage.
It wasn’t long before we realized that a having just a few plants doesn’t have quite the impact that more dense planting has, but primroses apparently self-seed well, and we may try propagating some of them from cuttings.
We have a newfound appreciation for professional flower beds that are blanketed with blooms. It really takes a lot more than you think to make an impact!
As the tulips finished blooming, we planted bright yellow annuals (these are bidens) to brighten up the area. We also added a collection of herbs. There’s cilantro we grew from seed, curly and flat-leaf parsley, chives, Italian basil, Thai basil, oregano, and thyme.
We also set up some pots on the patio—there are pink dahlias, bunny tails grass we grew from seed (it still just looks like crab grass, but will eventually have cute little bottle brushes on the ends), a perennial salvia that made a comeback in the dark blue pot on the far right, a few marigolds, and a Meyer lemon bush that overwintered in the garage.
The patio furniture, we bought used last year from a lady in a nearby town. If you can’t already tell, we like to buy things used! (Also, we’ve found that it’s great to be able to pick it up right away, as opposed to the long wait times for any kind of furniture these days.)
Also couldn’t resist these red dahlia plants, which I bought at Home Depot after stopping in for garden twine. You may be noticing a pattern at this point…
Who’re you looking at, I don’t have a problem!
In similar fashion, we went to the grocery store one day and came out with not just groceries, but 6 hanging pots of red-orange geraniums to hang on the lamp posts.
Look at what we found when we took one down to water it!
That’s not the only crazy wildlife sighting/encounter we had this spring. Check out this snapping turtle we saw ambling across the lawn.
Over the next few weeks, more flowers started to pop up—big ones this time, not just the dainty early spring flowers! The peonies came into bloom, and we found a yellow rose that no one noticed until it was big and flowering, shouting “looook over here!”
The clematis also flowered beautifully!
My dad also picked little yellow buttercups and weedy daisy-looking flowers growing in small clumps around the lawn, and found this pretty fabulous pale lavender iris!
We have lots of salvia (or is it catmint?), which the bees that do come around seem to congregate at, and this incredibly pretty magenta flowering shrub. Anyone know what this is (below, on the right)?
Perhaps our favorite find, however, is this white fringe tree. It only bloomed for a week or two, but it was truly glorious when it was in flower.
My dad described it as, “ethereal like you’re in Rivendale!” (He means Rivendell from The Lord of the Rings—in spite of this very dad-esque spelling error, I share his sentiment!)
Still Work to Be Done: tackling vegetables!
Okay, now for the slightly less glamorous side of things! And by less glamorous I mean the much more challenging part that requires much diligence for the sake of future recipes and tips for us to share with you all!
We’ve done a lot of work planning out the vegetable garden beds, and where the seeds would go.
This table in our sunroom and any available window sill surface were filled with trays of seedlings for about two months.
There was a lot of very careful misting and rotating and worrying over the progress of our seedlings! See our first gardening post for more about what we learned from this process!
As it turned out, our schedules got in the way a bit and we ended up kind of just throwing things into the ground wherever we could, and whenever we had a chance.
What’s more, it took a very long time to clear the beds of weeds (each bed could take 2-3 hours!). So we just sort of planted things as space became available.
Hopefully, this is the last time we will ever have to dig these beds. In future years, we will just mulch with thick layers of compost to suppress weeds and feed the soil. (At least, we hope so…)
As we were weeding, we found these huge expansive spider-like roots. My dad initially thought they were some kind of unusual weed root.
But then he found a snow white ASPARAGUS attached to one of the roots! It was deep in the ground, away from sunlight. It can take 4-5 years to produce an asparagus harvest, so this was a very lucky find.
Unsurprisingly, this year there was a pretty paltry showing. Only about 4 to 5 spears like this:
We also experimented with that “alpaca tea” we told you about in our last post. It’s basically alpaca manure and water, and it’s as unpleasant as it sounds.
You let it sit for a few hours or up to 24 hours, dilute it with water (or use it during a rainstorm as we did) then pour it at the base of your plants or use it as a foliar feed (to spray the leaves).
Because you can never have enough flowers, we filled old plant pots (that once held the trees/shrubs we planted earlier in spring) with dahlia tubers and calla lilies we found sprouting in old pots we’d brought from our old house.
They’re growing away, and will go out into the garden once they’re bigger!
Don’t get us started…Caring for the pond
Another pretty grueling job: removing pond weed—and pond maintenance in general. It’s a whole new world, as we’ve never had a pond to contend with.
This pond has all sorts of critters from crayfish to bass to frogs and toads galore. A blue heron comes every day to fish and there are many varieties of dragonflies flitting around at all times.
(We’re trying to get a good photo of the blue heron but he/she’s very cautious and flies away at the first sign of us, so we’ve only gotten a good look through binoculars. )
Did I mention that in addition to turning into farmers, we’ve also gone full bird nerd?
Various pond maintenance companies told us that one would normally add herbicide to the pond to prevent weeds from growing. Another option was to dye the pond a dark color so that less sunlight gets to the weeds in the water.
We weren’t huge fans of either of these options, having seen the pond dyed before we moved in. The dye turns the pond sort of an odd unnatural color.
We didn’t want to put herbicide in the pond for obvious environmental reasons—and to protect our animals.
We may have let the weeds get a bit out of control, having been so busy with other things. But my dad is working on pulling them out (with a pond rake) and adding them to the compost pile.
SOME BIG Tree & Shrub Removal
There were also some plants around the property that weren’t doing so hot—namely, the boxwood hedges that surround the house.
They were filled with some sort of pest and were turning yellow and brown. We decided to pull these out and throw them in the woods, and start fresh.
Now, in that bed, we have flower seeds growing:
We planted cosmos, zinnias, and a flower called Bee’s Friend. They’ve germinated and are growing—can’t wait to see what they look like later this summer.
In a similar vein, we also had a big push to remove 50 trees from from the property over the course of two days, with the help of a local tree service, who brought in huge cranes and heavy equipment to do the job.
Why so many?
Most of them are ash trees, which have been decimated in our area over the last 10 years or so by a beetle called the Emerald Ash Borer. That beautiful white fringe tree is also at risk from these bugs—we really hope that it survives!
These bugs lay their eggs in crevices in the bark of these trees, and then feed on the tree itself underneath the bark, irrevocably damaging the tree.
It’s very sad to have to remove so many trees, but the wood won’t go to waste. Some of it will be chipped into mulch. We’ll use some as firewood in the winter.
The rest will be put into the woods where it’ll break down and provide a home for other animals for whom these old logs are important habitat.
To cap off spring, our ducks are also nearing their full adult size. We’ve been working on building the duck run, which we’ll share more about in a future post!
Phew. Things have been very busy indeed!
While we walk around and at times only see the work that still needs to be done, working on this post has helped us see the beauty of this past spring season and reminded us that we should stop and savor it every once in a while.
We hope you enjoyed our spring garden tour!