Lonicera fragrantissima

Approaching an old, long-abandoned homestead, on an old, long abandoned road, we come upon a living, breathing remnant of that homestead’s legacy. This is a verge of L. fragrantissima, Chinese honeysuckle as I first learned it. Also called winter honeysuckle or fragrant honeysuckle. And for good reason. It flowers in the dead of winter, amidst the snow and ice and freezing temperatures. Maybe starting in February. It’s fragrance is indeed a “harbinger of spring” (in the words of the Missouri Botanical Garden).

10182017 lonicera 1

In full sun, the branches are long and sprawling, and it can reach 15 feet. Here, in the dappled shade, this hedge is about 7 feet high, more compact.

10182017 lonicera 2

Right now in October, the newish leaves look glossy and tender.

10182017 lonicera 3

This may be the same species. This particular individual is shorter in height, with the leaves looking a bit more brittle and hoary. Red berries in the background are indicative of L. fragrantissima. They are edible, slightly sweet with some astringency. Stay tuned for more photos in winter.

Blueberry plume

I hope that all the moms reading this have a berry good Mothers’ Day. Here’s my gift to you: a vision of blueberries soon to come, and delightful European strawberries already here.

04292017 blueberry plume
Pretty sure these are high bush blueberries. Who would have thought that blueberries grow in a spray of fruits at the end of a nearly upright stalk? Nature, like moms, abounds in beauty and mystery. This picture was taken over a week ago. At this point, the branches are drooping with the weight.

04302017 frase bois guild
Fraises des bois, (probably Fragaria vesca), wild strawberry. these plants were started by Pat Bush, one of my mentors. Huge foliage in relation to the berries – probably due to excessive nitrogen content of the soil. A delightful berry, sweet with a tangy undertone. To the right, if one can discern it, is an indigo bush.

The garden takes shape

Alley cropping is either more exciting than it sounds or less exciting that it sounds, depending on one’s disposition.

04302017 alley between rows

The above image, taken on April 30, depicts two rows of veggies, occupying the alley between two rows of elderberries and blackberries (elders in foreground).

This is definitely alley cropping on the small scale, but even so, I continue to be surprised by the amount of produce put out by these two rows. The kale (Red Russian) will continue to provide babies for salads and braising. The lettuce (black-seeded Simpson) needs to fill out a little more. Their harvest may be hampered by the numerous echinacea seedlings that came up amongst the baby lettuces. It will be a tough call, because honeybees like the coneflower, and it will undoubtedly impart a unique flavor to their honey.

The alleys of blackberries and elder are where the art of agroforestry comes into play. Interplanted among these shrubs, the farmer can locate plants of shorter stature that suit a broad array of functions: medicinal, native, pollinator, insectary, nectary, food, forage, soil building. Rest assured, you have not heard the last of alley cropping in the agroforestry system.


Baby plants in the Spring

Transplants for the garden and market: celery and Amorpha fruticosa (false indigo). Amorpha is another native. It is supposed to be a magnet for pollinators. We’ll see how well the honeybees like it. I’m also experimenting with the partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculate). The partridge pea does not do well on transplant – in future years, if I grow it again, there will be strictly one seed per cell, because I seem to have 100% germination with this, even though it is a 2016 seed. This is a fascinating little native legume that produces prolific yellow flowers, enjoyed by the bumble bee. A great annual, I somehow had some volunteers last spring, some of which died rather unexpectedly in midsummer.

20170403 amorpha measurement
There Amorpha seedlings are about a month old. They don’t appear to have root nodules. It is difficult to see, but the part of the stem that starts right above the soil and goes down to the roots, is thicker than the upper part of the stem. This appears to be a quality of many perennial legumes.

20170403 chamaechrista measure
Chamaecrista seedlings. A much quicker grower (it’s an annual plant, so no need for long-term investment). Many had nodules, but are not quite evident here.

Astragalus canadensis update


A brief update on how the goat’s rue is shaping up in the garden.  This appears to be a clumping forb. It continues to put out new growth, mostly prostrate or semi-upright stems.

Measurement of the width of each “clump” is as follows:

Number Width (inches)
1 2.25
2 2.5
3 3
4 1.75
5 4.25
6 2.5
7 4
8 3.25
9 1
10 2.75
11 3
12 2.5
13 2.25
14 2.75
15 4

Why is all this important? I’m still figuring out why. It’s important to me to have native plants on our farm. I’m trialing the goat’s rue to see a) how much biomass it adds, b) if that biomass is enjoyed by chickens, and c) if pollinators, including honey bees, are attracted to its flowers.


Astragalus canadensis – 2nd year

a native nitrogen-fixing plant

This is part of our farm’s ongoing “Native Legume Establishment in an Agroforestry Setting” project. We planted a number of Canadian milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) in the rows last year. A couple of them were photographed next to broccoli plants. These are the strongest survivors, twelve total. They were mostly covered in straw – I pulled it back for these photos, but then replaced it a couple days ago before the hard freeze.

Why native legumes? Legumes fix nitrogen out of the air = free fertilizer. All plants need nitrogen, because it is an essential part of chlorophyll (=photosynthesis). We’re incorporating native plants to support native pollinators, and to help preserve our region’s biodiversity.

We’re still learning about goatsrue, its phenology (growth habit and life cycle). Based on the photos, it appears to be a clumping forb (herbaceous plant). According to Weakley (2015)*, it dwells in “forests, woodlands, streambanks, rocky slopes and bluffs,” and the BONAP indicates that it has been found in Rockingham County. It may provide good turkey forage – so we’ll slash it as it’s fruiting and see if the chickens respond. Future photos will provide a scale, but the largest clump is about 7 inches across, and the smallest a couple of inches.

*Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States