The first year they sleep: Thoughts on perennials and making things by hand

Flowering sage

My sage is growing back.  It’s hard to believe sometimes that this herb that will eventually turn into a massive bush of silvery leaves and lavender blossoms started in a cold, dusty basement a couple of years ago.  I once ran across an adage some time ago about perennials that has proven to be true:

The first year, they sleep

The second year, they creep

And the third year, they leap

The reason behind this, according to Poundridge Nurseries, is that it takes awhile for the roots of many perennials to get established.  They need to search for nourishment from the soil and get acclimated to their new environment before they can support external growth.

This is encouraging to me, and not just because I garden.  Lately, I have tried to do more “doing”, i.e. making things.  Yesterday I made a little pillow for our soon-to-arrive-daughter.  It was made from a tea towel my mom gave me, and I got the idea that it would look cute with our chosen name for her on it and some sort of piping all around.

Of course, that’s how ideas work – they are easy to imagine, like little Pinterest pins that look perfect in your mind.

And then you have to make it happen.

I know a little about sewing, and it wasn’t that I didn’t have all the supplies, but figuring out how to make the piping was a little bit frustrating.  I first realized that I needed a different kind of foot for my sewing machine, and then had to learn what a zipper foot was, and then once I did, even then the piping didn’t go on perfectly (and neither did the embroidered name – it’s crooked).  It’s not something I would sell or give to anyone but a newborn who can’t really see and doesn’t know any better anyway.  But in the end, I think it’s an okay job for a first attempt, and the more important thing is that I tried.  And now I know what a zipper foot is and how to use it.

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I’m inclined to hope that learning a new skill is somewhat like planting a perennial – the initial effort can feel daunting, and the result paltry.  But the roots of a skill, once established, are much easier to grow.  Through seasons of trial and error, you suddenly find yourself enjoying the thing that was once so hard to do, and surprise yourself when one day the skill feels effortless.

An update on my winter sowing attempts – Spring 2014

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A few months ago I blogged about my attempts to start seeds in milk jugs outdoors in the throes of a Kansas winter.  As with most things related to gardening, some things have done remarkably well, some are so-so, and some are either failures or just really late sprouters.

What I can say is that I like the idea of winter-sowing – having seeds started in jugs has really made a difference in terms of sheltering them from the blustery winds of a Kansas spring and the erratic swings in temperatures.  On a warm sunny day, I can open up their hinged tops to let them experience the weather instead of over-heating, but shut them up if it’s going to freeze again.  I have noticed a huge difference in the spinach growing in a jug vs. in the garden, for example – it is definitely bigger and healthy-looking (this spinach was sprouted first on paper towels and then transplanted to the jugs – I will share more on that in a later post).

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The one downside is that some seeds sprouted early, and then it got really cold again, and they didn’t make it.  With creeping thyme, for example, I saw a lot of sprouts early, then they all died, so I sowed a second jug in March, and those have grown and stayed alive.  I am also wondering if the reason that some seeds haven’t sprouted yet is that they have rotted in the soil.  I am new at this, and try to keep the soil moist for germination, but it’s hard to tell what the reason is.

Wintersown lettuce and Swiss chard

My mesclun lettuce is doing so well I think I should probably transplant it into the raised beds.  And I definitely need to move in the Swiss chard and lacinato kale soon.

I also have seen sprouts in the following:

- marigolds (no problems with frosts so far – they are thriving with the jug closed)

- yarrow

- purple coneflower (only 3)

- salmon peony poppy (just a couple)

- hollyhocks

- Canterbury bells

- royal carpet creeping alyssum and white alyssum

- creeping thyme

In a couple of weeks I will hopefully post on how some of these are doing transplanted, and show you picture of our raised beds full of soil and some of our plants.

Frugal Experiment: Starting yogurt from frozen cubes

Some frozen cubes of our newer batch of yogurt

I am a bit of a stickler for a good, tangy yogurt, and recently I found that frozen cubes of older, plain yogurt, even if they have been in the freezer for 6 months or more, can work as a starter for a new batch.

Many people suggest just using any plain yogurt from the grocery store, and if you like the flavor, that’s fine.  But we had grown accustomed to Yogourmet CBA yogurt cultures, and unfortunately had run out of the powdered starter.

I had frozen some cubes awhile ago to try as a starter after reading a tip that it could work (and read that as a LONG while ago, to the point they had some kind of freezer damage on them).  I decided to try thawing them out and using them as a starter for a small test batch to see if they worked.  When they thawed out, the yogurt looked like buttermilk, but it had a decent flavor to it, so I made 2 cups worth of yogurt in our starter.  It took a long time to set – probably 8-12 hours – and while it tasted okay I still wasn’t thrilled with the flavor.

The yogurt was usable though, so after we ate most of it, I used some of the new “starter batch” to start a second batch, this time trying to make the typical amount we use now of one half-gallon.  After heating and cooling off the milk, stirring in the starter, and putting it in the yogurt maker, I expected it to take a long period again to set.  But to my surprise, after only four hours, it had not only set, it was incredibly tangy and flavorful.

I am guessing that perhaps the starter needed to be resurrected a bit to return to its previous state, but either way, I am glad that it worked.  Now I will always try to keep six or so cubes worth on hand in the freezer if our yogurt ever goes bad.