Sunday, April 29, 2012

Honeymoon Boat Tour from Ocracoke Island, NC

Capt. Donald Austin at the Helm

One of the highlights of our honeymoon on Ocracoke Island was the boat tour we took to nearby Portmouth Island. Capt. Donald Austin of Austin Boat Tours was an excellent guide. I loved listening to his charming Ocracoke brogue as he confidently told us all about the history and heritage of his island home. 

Welcome to a Ghost Town
What we didn't know until we reached Ocracoke was that nearby Portsmouth Island was a ghost town. Buildings and cemeteries are still there to visit, including the historic and well-preserved life saving station, but nobody lives there anymore. The visit gave us a feeling of how these island residents of North Carolina's Outer Banks lived and worked in days gone by. This community of people was hospitable, sea-faring, tightly-knit, and tough!

Methodist Church Welcomes You!
If you go, you'd better be in good shape if you want to do the full tour. Don and I were dropped off at a dock, met by volunteers at a visitors' station, given a map of the area, and allowed to go explore. A few buildings, including the Methodist Church and the Life Saving Station, are open to the public. 

Life Saving Station
After we explored the town, we slogged through mud and water that was ankle-deep in places along a well-marked and mosquito-filled trail to a beautiful beach where we collected sea-shells and made our way to a rendezvous point. We had brought a picnic lunch, which we sat and ate while we waited for Captain Austin to collect us. When he arrived, we waded through shallow water, clawed our way back into the boat, and headed over to Beacon Island, a nesting ground for seabirds where no humans live. Of particular interest were the many brown pelicans that nest on the island around this time of year. We made our way back, happy and tired and relieved that he had returned so reliably to collect us. 

Brown Pelicans Take Flight
For the record, Captain Austin is also willing to return to the dock where he dropped us off to collect tourists for the return trip. We suggest that those who lack strong mosquito repellent or strong legs do just that! But for us, the hike was memorable and worth it.

Oh, and one final word of advice: Even if you plan just to explore the village, bring the strongest mosquito repellent there is. That's advice that all the residents of Ocracoke will give you, and they are right!

Monday, April 23, 2012

British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island


Graves of four British seamen from the HMT Bedfordshire

The Soldier 

IF I should die, think only this of me;
  That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

Don and I found history at every turn while we wandered Ocracoke Island on our tandem bike. Such were the Halcyon days of our honeymoon. Don, who is a retired U.S. Navy submariner, was fascinated by this memorial and gravesite for four British seamen from the HMT Bedfordshire, an armed trawler that was on loan to the U.S. Navy from Britain during World War II. A German U-Boat (U558) torpedoed and sank the Bedfordshire on May 11, 1942. All hands were lost, and only these four bodies were recovered. For more pictures and information about the site and the Bedfordshire, visit Flickr.

By the time we left Ocracoke, I was duly impressed by how often over the centuries the Ocracokers have had to bury people, not only from their own community but whoever happened to drown --or be torpedoed-- off the treacherous coast. We visited the lifesaving station on nearby Portsmouth Island, but that is fodder for another post.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Asparagus Rising

I spent late afternoon and early evening today planting vegetable seeds around the asparagus in two of my raised beds. Check out Mother Earth News' garden planner for the layout and for details of what I put where in my square foot gardens.

 I started some seeds indoors in peat pellets over a month ago, but for the first time I've been disappointed with the results. Many seeds never sprouted at all. And many of the seedlings died, even the hardy marigolds, and what is left won't be ready to plant outside for several more weeks.

It was so depressing I had to head outside to spend some quality time with my sage plants to cheer myself up. The sage, transplanted from my former home in North Carolina, is adjusting well and blooming beautifully:

 I'm not sure what went wrong with the peat pellets. In past years I have overwatered, causing fungus to grow on my seedlings. In an effort to avoid that, I may have underwatered my plants this year. Some of the seed may have been too old or gotten a little moist in storage somehow. I just don't know.

 On a more positive note, the asparagus I planted is doing great so far. The spears look so good, I have to remind myself they are off-limits for harvesting the first year. Check them out:

Mary Washington and Jersey Supreme Asparagus
Most of the purple passion is coming up more slowly, but it's coming:

Purple Passion

I have tried sowing some inoculated Dutch white clover around 8 squares of asparagus. I am hoping it will act as a ground cover and living mulch for the asparagus while it improves the soil with its nitrogen-fixing properties. I am torn between the fact that asparagus is a heavy feeder and the fact that it doesn't compete well with weeds. Then again, clover is great for feeding pollinators and attracting beneficials to the garden. So I decided to risk it with 8 squares, keeping the clover confined to the squares. I'll see how the clover-squares do vs. the bare squares and figure it out from there.

Update for May 1: I bought some dill, chives, leeks, and sweet pepper plants at Southern States this week, hardened them off a little, and transplanted them into some of the squares. I prefer to grow my own plants from seed because I worry about diseases unwittingly brought home with plants mass-produced for big box stores. But the few seedlings I have are small and iffy, and I just can' wait. I decided to skip the peas I was going to grow. Summers warm up around here so quickly, and peas are a cool-season plant. I will plant them for the fall or I will plant them late next January now that I have beds and soil in place.

The GOOD news is that most of the plants that seem to be surviving are varieties of tomatoes. They are small but most look like they'll live. HURRAY, tomatoes! I can almost taste them.

The "Little Tomato That Could" got roughed up, somehow, when Don brought it into the house to protect it from last week's cold weather. Sadly, some of its stems were broken. But it's still alive and it's still producing flowers and tomatoes. I spread some Solu-Lime around it and fertilized it with some diluted compost tea. I am already starting to worry about blossom end rot, which in my experience is more common and harder to treat in potted tomatoes. When the weather gets hot and dry, it is hard to maintain the consistent moisture that tomatoes need when they are confined in pots.

The asparagus is looking great, and the "purple passion" is catching up to the other strains in terms of size. We have been eating all the asparagus and strawberries we can handle from our CSA. It is so delicious, we can't wait to eat asparagus from our own back yard. Just two more years!

***Update for 5/23/12: I had to pull up my first "female" asparagus plant today. It was one of the purple passion plants. The standard advice is to pull up any plants that start to produce berries. These are female plants. The reason is that over time, they are less productive than the males, and the berries produce baby asparagus plants. The babies grow all over the place, like weeds, and have to be weeded by hand. If you let them grow, half of the babies are female, compounding the problem. This is one reason why the Jersey hybrids are more productive: they are mostly male. The upside to pulling up the "mama" plant was that there was a smaller spear growing up from the crown, so Don and I had a taste of our own asparagus before I tossed the plant in our compost pile. Purple Passion is definitely sweet and tender! We ate it raw.

***Update or 7/18/12: The asparagus has grown in so thick, it has smothered most of the clover for lack of light. I suspect this is just as well. The clover adds nitrogen to the soil, and if it's dead, it can't compete with the asparagus for water in the summer heat we are having. I was afraid the clover would take over my vegetable beds, but it never did.

The Little Tomato That Could, End of April

The Little Tomato is starting to produce fruit. The plant that my husband rescued back in November and that we have nurtured through the winter is now producing flowers and tiny green tomatoes. We were wondering if it would bear fruit at all, since it's of uncertain and probably hybrid parentage. Don is one proud papa, and I don't blame him!

Little Tomato Today
Have I ever mentioned that Don eats tomatoes (apples, too) like nobody I've ever known? I hope these tomatoes mature into something wonderful to reward him for all his efforts.

It looks healthy, although it's not the handsomest tomato I've ever seen. It's certainly a far cry from the pathetic Fall seedling pictured below.
Little Tomato in November

The Sweetest Snail Mail

Practicing for the Big Day
In this age of email, instant messaging, and instant everything, we sometimes forget the slow, old-fashioned pleasure of opening personal correspondence sent through the U.S. Mail. 

As you can see from the picture, Don and I are social dancers. Our friends enjoyed quite a bit of ballroom dancing with us at our recent wedding reception.Most family members are not ballroom dancers but got on the dance floor and had fun, anyway.

Apparently the ballroom style of dancing made a huge impression on one of my sister's little girls. She wrote the sweetest letter to her new uncle, which my sister kindly sent us. Here is what she wrote in her own careful scrawl:

Dear Uncle Don,

At the wedding, I loved your dancing. I never thought of doing stuff with your feet when you put your feet different ways. Like backwords and forwords (sic). When I dance with my sister we just go in circles holding hands. At the wedding when the man said you may kiss the bride, I closed my hands and covered my eyes.

Hope you had a great honeymoon.

Your niece,


Don is tickled to death with her little note, and I am such a proud Aunt. What a nice introduction to ballroom dancing for little Christina, and what a warm welcome to our family for Don. Thanks, Christina!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Springer's Point on Ocracoke Island

The beauty of Springer's Point


A highlight of Don and my honeymoon on Ocracoke Island, NC, was our visit to Springer's Point. At first glance it is a small, rustic, woodland park near the ocean. But it is not only an amazingly beautiful maritime forest, it is also historic. The famous pirate, Blackbeard, probably born as Edward Teach, used to hide out in this area. He and some pirate-friends had a picnic along the beach at Springer's Point shortly before his death at the hands of Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood's men. His actual last battle was at "Teach's Hole," an area of deep water just off the point.

It is fun to imagine a pirate's treasure buried somewhere in the area, isn't it?

While treasure is probably not buried on Springer's Point, Sam Jones definitely is. A wealthy philanthropist to the island, he is buried on Springer's Point with his beloved horse, Ikey D. His widow sold the property to a conservation organization to preserve it and prevent it from falling into the hands of developers. So she and the conservation group have preserved the true treasure, Springer's Point itself.

As we Southerners would say: Bless her heart!

Your destination: Springer's Point!

Sam Jone's Tombstone

Maritime Forest