The gardening season ends with a cackle at my house. After the beds and borders are cleared, the tomato cages are stacked, and the garden tools cleaned and put away, it’s time to let the chickens run free. During the rest of the year, the 35 hens and 4 roosters live in an old-fashioned chicken house with a large wire run that allows them access to the outdoors. This keeps them from scratching up baby plants or devouring our vegetables (as well as protecting them from being eaten themselves). But, in late Fall, I open the door and set the birds free. They scatter like children at recess. Running here, scratching there, they dine on slow-moving insects, rotting apples in the orchard, and weed seeds at the yard’s edge—magically transforming the remnants of our yard and garden into rich, flavorful eggs. Plus, they brighten the now-drab garden: Buff Orpingtons, multi-colored Araucanas, Silver-laced Wyandottes, Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Speckled Sussex are just a few of the colorful breeds in our feathered clean-up crew.
Posts by Doug Jimerson
Every fall, I dread digging and storing summer bulbs such as dahlias and cannas. By summer’s end, many of these plants have developed large, heavy masses of roots that can be a nightmare to wrestle out of the ground. But, with an Iowa winter on the horizon, I know these tender beauties need get moved into our basement as soon as possible. By far, my favorite summer bulb is Bishop of Llandaff dahlia. Besides its brilliant red flowers, this vigorous variety is prized for its eye-catching maroon foliage. It generally grows about 3 feet tall, but for some reason, this year I had some plants that grew almost shoulder high. With a patch of ‘Bronze’ fennel behind them and a bed of ‘Amber’ Flower Carpet roses at their feet, the dahlias were in good company all summer long. Learn more about dahlias or see some of our favorites.
This is a bittersweet time of year for me. The days grow shorter, frost has killed the summer bounty of flowers and vegetables, and the songbirds are quickly heading south. And, once the final leaf blows clear of the maples and oaks on our farm, our normally colorful landscape shifts to a palette of brown, black and eventually white. I know spring will come again, but I’ve never been good with good byes and bidding farewell to my 2009 garden has been tough to do. But, this past week my youngest son Graham, who is in college studying photography, opened my eyes to the brilliant world that still exists outside my back door. He told me to look up, and enjoy the night sky. Living in California he has to drive many miles to find a place where it’s dark enough to successfully photograph the sky, but on our remote Iowa farmstead, it almost feels like you can reach up and grab the stars. Graham has done a series of “star trail” photographs and looking at them I’m reminded that the spring sky will return eventually and that I should take the time to savor each day, each season.
This weekend, while everyone else is celebrating Halloween, my wife Karen and I will be preparing an early Thanksgiving dinner. That’s because our son Graham, who goes to college in California, doesn’t get enough time off from school to fly home for the actual Thanksgiving holiday. But, this year, he was able to come home on an early break, so tomorrow the family will gather at our farmhouse for a traditional turkey dinner. Before heading to the grocery store, I did a quick census of what’s still available in our garden to use in the meal. Even though we’ve already had a snowfall, I discovered that our Swiss chard is in top form, along with a big patch of Brussels sprouts and some herbs. We planted the Brussels sprouts back in April and now each plant is about 3 feet tall and the stems are packed with bright green sprouts. This is the first time we’ve grown them and I’ve heard that their flavor actually improves after frost. I think cooking them should be a lot of fun, getting Graham to eat them might be the bigger challenge.
When people think about fall color, roses aren’t usually the first plants that come to mind. But this year, some of my roses are putting on a color show that rivals any maple tree. One of the most colorful is the rugosa rose, Frau Dagmar Hartopp. I love this rose because it offers something in almost every season. In the spring it blooms early, producing wonderfully fragrant, single pink flowers. When hot summer weather hits, the plant’s glossy green foliage rarely suffers from Black Spot or any other rose ailment. As fall arrives, the leaves turn a brilliant shade of yellow and by the time they drop off the plant, it has already developed bright orange-red hips (seed pods) that decorate the branches
all winter long. Plus, Frau is a nice compact rose that only grows about 4 feet tall. Other rugosa roses can grow to six or eight feet tall and require pruning to keep them from taking over the garden. And, did I mention it’s winter hardy, too!
In a previous life, I must have lived in a warmer climate. Otherwise, I have no clue why I’m so attracted to big tropical plants that have no business living in my Iowa garden. Take agaves, for example. I love these plants and have a collection of them that I must move to warmer spots in my house for the winter. Yet, I persist on getting new agaves every year. Last spring, for example, our friends at Monrovia sent me a gigantic octopus agave that weighs so much I can barely budge it. It makes an extraordinary container plant and caught the eye of everyone that visited my garden this summer. Trouble is, agaves, are not fun to move because most species have sharp, spear-like foliage. And, no matter how careful I am, I always end up with puncture wounds on my hands and arms (agaves eat garden gloves for lunch). I imagine it’s what wrestling a porcupine would be like if that opportunity ever arose. Anyway, I’m happy to report that all my agaves are safely indoors for the winter, including the giant octopus agave–the way it kept grabbing me I understood why they call it an octopus agave.