Excitement Level = HIGH!
We're getting close to Bill & Venus Bird's favorite part of the year. More so me than the lovely wife -- but Spring is getting ready to Sprung in ye olde North Natomas Back 40.
The wife loves this time of year too -- don't get me wrong. But she can hardly wait for the 100-degree nights (sans Delta Breeze of course), Johnny Miller calling the play-by-play on KNBR, cats chasing after insect ghosts in the dark backyard night and a refreshing drink containing high-class gin that comes from a plastic bottle.
Now that children -- is a good time for all. I happen to like it too.
Winter is a bit of a bummer for us backyard enthusiasts. Yeah -- you receive reams of catalogs to go through. Seeds must be ordered. Gardens must be planned. But that's all INDOOR work. Meanwhile -- for those of us who would rather be outside in the garden -- all we can do is look out the window at the downpour.
But the first hint of spring for us? That's when the daffodils burst open. We got quite the show this year. Next up? The Santa Rosa plum tree turned bright white with a thousand blossoms.
And now -- finally? The artichoke plants are beginning to perk up and look like artichoke plants again. In another month or two -- the first artichokes will begin to emerge from the nine or ten artichoke plants in this bed. By mid-May? Artichokes will be on the menu just about every night for supper.
There's nothing quite like a meal of a big, meaty artichoke, some melted butter, garlic salt and fresh herbs from the garden. It is Heaven on Earth.
I was a tad worried though -- earlier this year. The freeze that hit in December really walloped the artichoke plants that had emerged last fall. Usually -- artichoke plants emerge in the fall and grow right through the winter months. They are usually quite gargantuan by March and April. But something strange happened this year.
I'm not sure if it was the December freeze or perhaps a neighbor got a tad too generous with some Roundup -- as our plants started to die back in January. Some of the damage -- as the photo to the left illustrates -- is still with us. There was a time when every plant looked exactly like that one leaf. I'd never seen it before.
But -- thinking this could also be freeze damage -- I followed the advice of other well known gardeners who advised "leave it alone." It's true that artichokes do love cold, foggy conditions. But they draw the line when the mercury drops too far -- as it's been known to do in Sacramento. Give them a coastal climate and they'll shower you with love and artichokes.
Most of the time -- we have that. But there are those "exceptions..."
I'm not only happy to see them bouncing back -- but the return of my natural bug hunters brought a big smile to my face. I'm not exactly sure why ladybugs are so wild about my backyard -- but I have them in abundance. They are the best control that I have against the aphids and other pests that will begin munching on the artichokes and artichoke plants later this spring.
Eventually -- the aphids and the heat will always win out the day. But the ladybugs do their part in keeping the bad characters away. Now -- don't get me wrong here. You can't just cut -- steam and eat on home-grown chokes -- unless you really like getting a mouthful of yard critters. They love hiding ON and INSIDE the artichoke.
The best defense then? A good salt water bath is a must once you've brought them inside to prepare for that evening's meal. A good 30 minute soak in a salty brine will remove most of the bad actors -- and you'll be surprised to find out just how INFESTED these things can get.
Bill Bird -- and an overabundance of bugs -- love artichokes.
If you desire artichokes as big as your hand for dinner -- the time to start preparing for that experience is now. I fertilize my artichoke plants regularly -- with both organic and non-organic materials. The plants get a least a gallon of water mixed with Omega 2000 and Maxicrop every week and I also distribute several cups of Osmocote brand fertilizer in the bed during the month of March.
As the weather warms and the plants begin to produce? Normal watering schedules go by the wayside. The bed is soaked thoroughly with a hose on a low stream of water at least twice a week.
This method usually results in a first crop of artichokes that will be large -- meaty and very tender. Successive crops will result in smaller artichokes. And -- as the weather really begins to warm in mid-June -- artichokes take on the consistency of leather. They're still good mind you -- but tough on the teeth!
Perhaps more experimentation is needed? We will be expanding our artichoke planting efforts into a second bed later this spring. The bed is built -- but isn't irrigated yet nor do I have the required planter mix. Put that on the list of "projects to be completed later this spring."
I never do get to all of them.
Oh -- I promised BLOOMS! And here you go! This is another reason to get excited about the approaching change in seasons that is spring. The two peach trees in the backyard are flowering like nobody's business.
Although there are some growers who reccommend that you don't allow a peach tree to produce ANY fruit for the first three years -- well -- I couldn't wait. This O'Henry Peach tree produced a few peaches during the first year. Last year? An avalanche of peaches. The tree had to be culled regularly to keep branches from bending and breaking under the weight of loaded peaches.
As for Year 3? While I really should pull each and every peach from the tree and allow root systems to develop -- you should know me by now. There's peach pie to be had later this summer!