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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Where Art Thou, Tubers?

My back deck is a shady place. This makes it a lot more user-friendly than one in the sun, given Maryland's hot and muggy summers. Spring and fall, the maple shading it has sparse leaves, making it usable for even more time.

Despite the shade, I need to have flowers. I have tried all kinds of things, usually settling for a combination of houseplants being happy outside, flowers that struggle to bloom in the shade, some vines to hang down. Usually I sue a combination of perennials that I can later place in the garden - coral bells or ferns or lady's mantle - and annuals, such as impatiens, fuchsia, or begonias.

This year was the year of the begonias - not the bedding ones I've used in the past, but nice tuberous begonias. I had company at the start of the season in April, so I bought a couple of large hanging baskets in full bloom.  They were gorgeous until last week when the first frost hit. Actually, one was. The other was a little ragged, but a trooper after I, um, missed the hook in trying to rehang it. A two story fall took a bit of its lushness away, but it did its best to recover.

I have 5 railings planters that I put up to hold flowers that will attract hummingbirds to the flowers and the feeder. I decided to use tuberous begonias - despite the outrageous cost. I ordered than early to start inside, but they did not ship them when I ordered them, so it took foooooreeeeveeeeer for them to grow and flower. The blooms were really beautiful, but they did not fill the planters as I hoped. Late into the season, I added some foliage begonias - beautiful leaves. I thought the flowers would be nothing, but although small, they were lovely. The nursery said I could bring them in as houseplants in the fall, so it was worth the investment.

So today was the day to transplant the foliage begonia into pots. I'm concerned that the pots don't have the kind of drainage I want, but at this point, getting them into the pots was the priority. They bring a great texture to the living room, and I am hoping they will like the diffuse light. I struggle with having enough light anywhere inside to grow plants, so I just try to keep them alive until they can go outside once again.

The there's the Cape Primrose plants. I have had them for a number of years- started with a lot, and they grew to a dividable size. I painted a bunch of pots purple, and gave about half of the plants away to friends. They are supposed to bloom like crazy, but in my dark house, blooming was not on their agenda. My guys hate them; the leaves are not much to look at, so without blooms, they have not added much to the inside decor. I planted them outside again, and now, when the first came, they are blooming like mad. And their blooms are spectacular. Nearly as flamboyant as orchids. So despite telling the guys they would not come in again, I transplanted them to pots. So tomorrow I am off to Home Depot for a light fixture to add some light to a corner of my office, where I hope they will do OK until the spring!

So, with the begonias and the primrose out, I started searching the soil for the tubers. Each planter had one - but I could only find two our of five. Where did the others go? The plants started to die back well before the weather changed. But I thought the tubers would still be fine.

With just 2 tubers, I may not have much next year. But I am going to try.

The plants in the hanging basket should have tubers as well. An on-line guide said to take the tubers out of the soil, remove any remaining dirt, and then let them dry out of several days, Once dry, place them in separate paper bags (to isolate any disease from the other tubers ) and then place in a box in a cool place. I have store tubers in sawdust before, but not used this method. I'm giving it a try - and hope that next year I will have beautiful blooms early in the season, if not quite as many!

This year Copyright 2010,

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


My grandmother on my father's side loved pink, baking, and annual geraniums. Her patio at the rear (but street side) of the cottage at Bay View, a Victorian summer community in northern Michigan, had pink geraniums. To me, they are happy flowers - old fashioned and bright. My gardening has also focused on vegetables and perennials. Few annuals make it into my plantings. But I have always had geraniums somewhere - annual as well as perennial.

Before I was married, I had an apartment with a front deck that I lined with a series of window boxes filled with pink geraniums, dusty miller, and trailing blue lobelia. I added trees in pots, and enjoyed the deck a lot.
After buying our present home nearly 18 years ago, we immediately tilled a large vegetable gardens - and soon after I added three planters, the only ones amid the raised beds, and planted red geraniums.

One reason I don't use annuals much is that I have limited funds, so I rather have plants that will come back year after year. So the perfect annuals for me are geraniums, because you can just pull them up at the end of the season, brush the dirt off the roots, and put them in a dry box or paper bag and leave them there all winter! This is seems absolutely impossible.

I took up my large pot of red geraniums to avoid the frost earlier this week. They were big and vigorous, and still blooming. I felt like a killer. It didn't feel right. But I did it because I knew it was this or death by cold. I placed them in a box - albeit one too small, so it has to be replaced - and out them in the garage. This is the third or fourth year for these 3 plants (every few years I forget to take them up and therefore lose them, which is why they are not 17 years old), so I know they will be alright.

Next spring, I will clip them back and plant them - and they will bloom again. I'm sure my Gram would be pleased.

   Copyright 2010,

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chow Chow

One of the things I purchased last weekend at the Bethesda Farmer's Market were some local meats made into terrific sausages of various types. On top was homemade Chow Chow Relish. Yummy. My sister said that she loves chow chow relish. So.. she will be getting some for her birthday! Oh, forgot she reads the blog....hmm.

We were supposed to get a frost Saturday morning, so I did a big garden harvest. Lots of herbs: basil, lemon verbena, and sage. Tons of poblano peppers, some jalepeno, some yellow and green bells. Tons of squash, mainly butternut and one last Delicata. The last of the leeks. Some nice young turnips.

And a bunch of green tomatoes. A prime ingredients in Chow Chow Relish. Today I made a batch using about 2 pounds of the tomatoes, adding onions, cabbage, and red bell peppers that were unfortunately not from my garden. My son said it smelled great, but there was just enough to fit into 5 pint jars, so there wasn't any to try out this evening. Also made Pear Honey, a recipe from Paula Deen, using pears and pineapple. Thought it would be more pear buttery, but it is more like a cross between pear jam and pear sauce. Made a basil infusion that may become a jelly if I can stay up that long.

Now to check airline regulations to see if Chow Chow Relish is allowed on the plane to Grand Rapids!

Copyright 2010,

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Visiting the Bethesda Farmer's Market

I had a delightful visit to the Bethesda Farmer's Market today. I was in town working at the Bethesda Row Arts Festival with my sister, and since the Farmer's Market was just a block away, I got to stop by there as well. Wonderful market - just wish I had a cooler with me! My very favorite thing was pure decadence - a duck breast prosciutto that I could not resist. I am not sure how I will use it yet, but I know it will be with something fresh and uncomplicated so I can highlight the duck. I also purchased some truffle salami, cured European style, a green curry sauce, a wine vinegar and some mustards, and some unbelievably great cheeses to eat with pears and apples.

At the art show, the level of craft was very high. I feel in love with a painting, but could only afford a print - but did not get it. Fiscal restraint. But I know after many years of art fairs that there isn't a "next time" with art you love. I have never, ever regreted a decision to buy art or fine craft. It simply brings joy. The creativity at the Arts Festival was only exceeded by the level of execution - and the Farmer's Market was the same, but with food.

Combine good food, great art, a light breeze, lots of sunshine and a high in the low 70's, time with my sister -- certainly this was one of the all time great days. A lucky life indeed.

   Copyright 2010,

Monday, October 11, 2010

Summer's Over - Time to Blog Again!

I cannot believe I have not blogged since July. What a summer! The garden did pretty good - no major pest out breaks. The flower gardens were much more neglected! This fall, I started selling a modest amount of produce at the Farmer's Market, along with some baked goods. After a frantically busy summer, adding the Farmers Markets has really put me over the top in busy-ness, but it such a nice place to be. I've made a couple of types of killer granola that I am quite proud of, and the market patrons seems to like it a lot as well. In just a few weeks, I have a following!

Meanwhile, I was quite late planting a fall crop. My lettuce and spinach are up but just barely. My cole crops are being attacked, so it is hard to tell whether the plants or the pests will win. The chard is happy and healthy, but we love it so much I am afraid I will take too much and it will quit for the year. I'm still getting lots of peppers - especially poblanos - and tomatoes.

We had friends over for dinner yesterday, and the food was particularly colorful. I oven-roasted a huge load of tomatoes - yellow, black, and red - with olive oil, onions, kosher salt, my strong soft necked garlic, fresh basil  - in a hot 400 degree oven for 45 minutes.  That mixture then went into a skillet, to which I added fresh spinach bought at the Farmer's Market, and it became our pasta sauce. I made homemade ravioli for the first time (a pasta roller being my newest toy) using pasture raised beef, heritage breed pork, and freshly harvested chard. It took me to a while to get the hang of the dough, but it was quite forgiving. Never was able to pop out the raviolis by tapping the mold on the counter -- hah!! Took each one out one by one by one by one.... sigh. Also roasted bell peppers from the garden - green, red, and yellow - for another colorful dish, with fresh mozzarella cheese. The broccoli rabe came from a store - shocking!

So a lot of activity in the kitchen and the garden... and now on the blog!

Copyright 2010,

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Zucchini Overload

It happens every year. From not one to overload in a day: zucchini overload. I take it as a personal challenge to face the zucchini each year composing as few fruits as possible. It is a fun hunt, looking for fruits among the vines - the same green, they often disappear until they are bat sized an tough, so it takes some careful looking to get at the small tender ones we love. My skin reacts to the little pricklies, so I carefully move the big leaves and look at the plant base. One escaped Jonathan's picking earlier in the week - it was wrapped to form a perfect "J" - tucked in so perfectly it was hard to get out!

Last night it was zucchini quiche for dinner. I don't make this vegetarian classic much - but it is always terrific. Many years ago, my friends Beth and Dan asked me to contribute zucchini quiche for their wedding celebration. I made a bunch - and developed an aversion to the smell for many years! But after decades, I can appreciate it again. Tonight was zucchini again - this time the strangest pizza I've ever made. No, not zucchini on top - it was a zucchini and cheese crust (with a few eggs and a tiny bit of biscuit mix) with ground beef and tomato sauce on top. Remarkably good.

On the sideboard are jars of zucchini relish - looking pretty and hopefully tasting great. I bought some at the farmers market last year, and it was pretty, tart, and adaptable - a great accompaniment  to any meat. I followed the recipe in "Putting Foods By", and captured it in small, wide mouth half pint jars. I hope it will make nice gifts.

And there is always baking. A chocolate zucchini cake is cooling in the kitchen - with a teenage boy in the house, it is unlikely much will make it into the freezer! I will probably bring zucchini bread to a meeting later this week - hopefully no one is on a carb free diet; it should count as a vegetable!

It won't last forever - as soon as the last of the big stuffed boats are gone, the vines will wilt and the bounty will be over for the next year. Time to find even more uses...

 Copyright 2010,

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hydrangeas In Trouble!

The unrelenting 100-degree-plus heat is really taking a toll on my gardens. We've been focused on the vegetable garden, but needed to pay more attention to the borders. It is the poor hydrangeas that have suffered the most. I think I have completely lost the little Blue Lacecap that I planted this spring. It didn't get firmly established before the heat and shriveled before e noticed. Poor thing. Same with the brand new variegated leaved shrub that was going to brighten a dark corner and hide an ugly wire support. But even the very well established shrubs are wilting and may not make it through. Even Molly. I thought Molly was the happiest plant in our yard. She survived at our former front walk, where she had little water or sun or space. hse finally grew so big that I had to move her - and then she seemed very happy in the new spot. Until the heat. Stay cool, Molly - fall will come eventually!

Copyright 2010,

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Wilted Garden

The Veggie Garden is wilting. So are all the borders - and we are losing some shrubs. Even the local hydrangeas are gasping in this 90 degree plus weather - hit 100 a couple of days so far and may again this week. With no rain. I did some hand watering this morning, but the water was hot from mere moments in the sun. Even the shade offers little relief. I can't imagine how August will be!
Copyright 2010,

Garlic and Shallot Harvest

My new garlic drying screen

At long last, I harvested the rest of my garlic and all of my french red shallots. I planted both soft and hard neck garlic last fall - and promptly forgot which bed got which type! I always regret not labeling, but often it is late when I finish planting and I decide I will make a label later.... and then don't. It became clear which was which this June as the hard neck garlic shot up scapes, which are not found on soft neck garlic varieties. My soft neck were ready for harvest 2 weeks ago, so I pulled them up and stored them in a wire basket to dry, since we hadn't yet made the drying screen.

The shallots were ready for harvest this week, and they look great. The hardnecks weren't quite there, but I pulled them anyway (hence too much green in the photo) because I wanted to do it all at once, and was hoping to use some of the bed space for a final sowing of beans. 

Jonathan made me this terrific box with screen to hang in  the shed to help dry out and harden the garlic and onions after harvest. It gets good circulation, although I worry about the excessive Maryland humidity. I am hoping to hang the herbs for drying next to them - we are reorganizing the shed to give me room (anyone want to take bets on how long before it is strictly a potting shed?). 

Meanwhile, I used the garlic scapes in a wonderful finger food at a political fundraiser last weekend. I made little Parmesan rounds - very tasty cracker - and topped them with garlic scape pesto, goat cheese from Firefly Farms, and then because I thought they looked dull, a petal from a red monarda flower (Jacob's Kline). They were great! I also made little meringue cookies, which I "glued" together at the bottoms with whipped cream in which were added crushed raspberries from the garden (I used red, yellow, and black but all red would have been the most attractive), and a marinated chicken cubes wrapped with a sage leaf from the garden and prosciutto and grilled, served with a red pepper garlic aoli made with the first soft neck I harvested. 

I will save some heads for planting again this fall - I can keep this up for years!

Copyright 2010,

Monday, June 21, 2010

Leggy Gaga

Leggy Gaga, the fawn abandoned at our next door neighbor's doorstep!
Copyright 2010,

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thanks, Oprah....

Oprah Winfrey is the most unlikely source for organic gardening advice - or so I thought - but to my surprise, she had the following basic insecticidal soap recipe on her enewsletter:

Start by mixing a concentrate solution to keep on hand by combining 1 cup/.24 L of vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon/14.8 ml of liquid dish soap. To dilute this mixture to use in your garden, combine 2 teaspoons/9.86 ml of the concentrate with 1 cup/.24L of water. Put the mixture in a hand sprayer and spray it on infested plants. Be sure to wet both tops and undersides of leaves.

I have used a similar compound for years - although I admit I just rather give it to the bugs than treat all the time - I have plenty to share!
Copyright 2010,

The Sour Cherries Arrive

Being a Michigander by birth, I love sour cherries. There is no better marker of a summer well lived then a sour cherry pie.

Normally sour cherry pies arrive just in time for Independence Day parties, but this year the cherries are early. Maryland doesn't have much of a cherry crop, and many years it fails. Bauhger's pick-your-own orchards has a one-week sour cherry season, and it started two days ago. I'd like to report that I was out there on ladders picking away, but I went the lazy route. I stopped at the famer's market for pasture raised meat, then headed to the farm market for 2 five-gallon buckets of cherries. Pre-picked.

I was hardly alone. Baugher's was buzzing. The line at the cherry pitting machine (see photo) was long, and I noticed a couple of things - my purchase was light in comparison to others, and there were a lot of women in head scarves. I couldn't contain my curiosity, so I asked a couple of gentlemen in line ahead of me what they were planning to do with their rather massive amount of cherries.

Turns out that sour cherries are a regular part of Persian cuisine, and one of the men was going to freeze them for use the rest of the year. A drink was one possibility, but his favorite dish was a Persian rice with sour cherries. He said that one could always make the rice in a rice cooker, but he liked the "old-fashioned" way of soaking, then boiling, then steaming the rice. The other man in the conversation did a quick search on his iPhone for recipe, and it was easy to find. It sounds scrumptious, and we will have it with our Father's Day celebration today. Here's the recipe I am using:

Abaloo Podow – Persian Sour Cherry Rice

About 40 small sour cherries

2 cups rice - basmati is preferred

Big pinch of saffron in 2 tablespoons of warm water

3/4 stick butter melted

Rinse rice till water runs clear. Soak rice for an hour. Boil rice 8 minutes in plenty of salted water. Strain rice. Add half the butter to large enameled dutch oven or other pot. Add half rice and stir a bit.
Add half cherries and half saffron/saffron water evenly in layers.
Layer on the other half of everything starting with the rice.

Put a kitchen towel over the top of the pot, then add the cover. This helps keep the steam in.
High about 8 min, low about 20.

Some of the recipes call for it to be layered in the steaming pan in a pyramid shape; it is supposed to develop a crust. I will try it that way and see what happens.

It was so nice talking top this Persian man - it really made my day that he would share this dish with me, and I hope he and his wife eat their cherries in good health all year.

The other man in line with me told me that he will freeze the cherries in small bags with some Splenda and eat them as a frozen treat all year. He grew up coming to Baugher's with his dad and finding the sound of the cherry pitter machine to be a comforting sound of childhood, and makes him miss his dad. Awwww. A sweet memory - that's why I took the picture of the machine!

I don't know either man's name, but thanks to both of them for sharing!

Last night I spent many hours re-packing the cherries so the huge bag would not explode in the refrigerator where we stashed it while going to hear my husband at a cello recital. Now they are packed in bags, measured out for a mega-harvest-preserving session. From 2 5-gallon buckets of cherries, I am making:

1. Four or five pies. I use the classic Joy Of Cooking version - impossible to be better. Having homemade pies in the freezer means I am always ready for a potluck or have something special for company. I'm using Karen Mahan's pie crusts this year - but still having some crusts in the freezer so they will be ready for when the blueberries ripen in a few weeks.

2. Two batches of sour cherry jam. Not low-sugar - it is a treat and will be treasured as one! I also don't like the freezer variety except for the time involved because the texture is not as firm and thus doesn't spread as well. I don't like the hot steam of a hot water bath canner, but I like the results. I may need to get a pressure canner if I keep this up all summer, though.

3. A traditional Hungarian sour cherry soup. In eastern Europe, this is a first course; here, often a dessert. It sounds yummy either way.

4. The Persian rice - and I am so sure that we will love it that I am counting out the amount for several more batches and freezing them.

5. Two batches of tart cherry liqueur. I made homemade limocello last year, and it was yummy, especially in champagne. I'll try this - takes at least two months - and perhaps give it as gifts at Christmas.   

6. A cherry crumble. While my mom could make a really good pie, what I remember most about dessert in my childhood was the crumbles, slumps, and cobblers. Our favorite was "cherry goo", and I think the crumble is getting close to the "goo" of my memory.

All these cherries make my Michigan heart sing!

Copyright 2010,

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pea Soup

One of my favorite new books this year, "The Seasons of Henry's Farm" has a recipe adapted from Deborah Madison 's recipe called "Waste Not, Want Not" Pea Soup. What intrigued me was that the stock used the pea pods. This always bother me - the pods go from the garden right to the compost pile!

Never again. This recipe was magical. It was worth the fuss and bother to make the homemade stock with scallions, parsley, carrot, lettuce leaves (thank goodness since I had a huge lettuce harvest, too) and the empty pea pods. I didn't use the optional beef soup bone, and didn't miss it  a bit.  Once the stock is done, then it is scallions, peas, salt, pepper, and sugar - and the result was the freshest, cleanest tasting pea soup I have had in a long, long time. Perfection.

I am sure it was both the stock and the rest of the recipe that made it so good, but the next harvest of peas, I am making another batch of the stock to freeze even if I don't make the pea soup!

 Copyright 2010,

Karen's CSA

My friends have suggested that I start selling CSA shares. I've become a vegetable. Who wants spinach? Any takers for peas? Can anyone help me out with the lettuce?

This weekend I harvested romaine lettuce, and once again I have more than we can possibly eat. So far, I have delivered packages of washed leaves, rolled in paper towel, in an open bag, to 2 families, and two more will be dropped off this evening. Normally, I can and freeze and preserve, but lettuce needs to go to the food bank or friends.

At times like this, I need more friends!

Copyright 2010,


I am grateful. It waited two months this year. My first case of poison ivy usually comes in late April - and I didn't get it this year until June. I think it says more about what I'm doing than the plant itself. I've concentrated pretty hard on the vegetable garden this year, and the shade border and woods have been pretty neglected. But somewhere, someone, I always find some poison ivy.

I used to get the most incredible, long lasting cases that would leave permanent scars. Huge welts. The more I treated them, the worst it got.....duh! It turned out I was allergic to the over the counter topical medicine sold to treat poison ivy! Now that I know I am allergic to caine mix, I am in need of some relief from other sources.

For the first time this year, I tried using plantain leaves. Since we don't use any herbicides in our yard, and completely ignore the grass to spend time in the gardens, we have plenty throughout our yard! The research I did said to use them in the bathtub, and them take cooked leaves and blot them on the wounds. My bathtubs are not the nice soaking tub variety, so I passed on the tub (but if I had a view I would have tried it). Instead, I made a paste of the leaves and rubbed them on affected areas of my legs and arms. It made a royal mess- and I can't say I saw any difference in my skin.

Next I tried apple cider vinegar. A slight sting. Walked around a whole day smelling like a salad that you really didn't want to eat. And it didn'[t help a bit.

Finally I admitted defeat and went to the doctor 2 days ago, and started on steroids. My skin calmed down a lot. I thought I was reaching he end of this episode....

Tonight, I am itching and stinging.  A lot. All over my legs.

Here we go again!!

Copyright 2010,

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Would I Do Something Illegal?

I met a wonderful person today who had done a lot of things I would like to do - built a deck and chicken coop with his teenager, installed a graywater system, and is about to install solar panels. In a small house, much like ours.

He said the graywater system was totally illegal. That's where I cringe. I believe that graywater systems are responsible, and that we absolutely have to find ways to make them legal and standard. Water is far too precious to waste in any way. We nee dot use it sparingly and well. I want a graywaer system to water my non-vegetable garden. But am I willing to install one now, thumbing my nose at local codes? Probably not. I'm far from perfect, but I am pretty much a goodie-two-shoes who follows the rules.

Graywater is not radical environmentalism, it is common sense. What we all need more of - especially the government, who makes these dumb rules. Petition time?
Copyright 2010,

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Nesting Instincts

Today's garden chores included work on our most-neglected part of our yard (or perhaps more accurately, one of them): the north side corner. Wild, weedy, and shaded, it is enclosed by Norway spruce, inside which are crabapples and dogwoods - looks of competition for roots. Last year we planted some lovely azaleas there. They were not like all the others at the nursery; these were balled, and had a much more open shrub structure, with delicate flowers, not in-your-face pink like most. They are quite happy, so we are as well, and we've decided to add some hydrangeas to their neighborhood. I had been waiting for the perfect place for a smaller version, a blue lacecap, so we added her in one corner. To hide an ugly metal support to a telephone pole, we looked for a spot for a variegated leaf hydrangea, bigger than the lacecap. So I was happily weeding the area, when I saw it.

On the ground was the most perfect little nest. What strikes me most is the shape of the cup: it is not round, like most nests, but oval. It is small - no dove or jay or robin could fit into it. So I brought it inside to look for a nest identification guide. Not finding it, I googled nest identification, and still came up empty. So I googled Cornell, hoping that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology would be able to help.

What I found at Cornell was "Nestwatch", yet another citizen-science effort this wonderful lab is conducting. They are looking for "regular people" like you and me to record nests. The amount if data they collect with their citizen participants is truly awesome.

So I registered. Not for the next on the ground, but for the lovely Gray Catbird nest that is right by the gate to my vegetable garden.  I had noticed her hanging around every time I was in the garden, but it was Jonathan who first found the nest. It is inside a climbing hydrangea that covers both sides of the fence by the gate - very well hidden, but unfortunately in a place I disturb on a regular basis. Mama bird was not happy when I looked to verify the number of eggs to register the nest. Four beautiful, perfect little eggs in an incredible, rich shade of blue. Like a Caribbean sea, much darker than a robin's egg and richer than an Arcana chicken's (and much smaller). I quickly left so she could resume brooding the eggs, which Cornell says she will do for 12-15 days. What surprised me was how short the fledgling period is - just 10 - 15 days. Amazing.

We have other nests, too, but I don't know what is happening in them because they aren't accessible. In the lilac in the back, we have a cardinal nest for the first time. They don;t seem to be there at the moment, so I'm thinking that the first brood has fledged already. We had bluebirds in the veggie garden box, but they. too, are gone now. We don't know if the bluebirds nesting in the house outside our bedroom window are the same pair with a second brood or a different pair, but when one landed near the shade border just as a ruby throated hummingbird was feeding on blooms, it was pure magic. And house wrens are in residence in the house made by one of my favorite potters, Ken Hankins, and in an old birdhouse that had fallen down and was temporarily stuck in the crook of one of the apples in the orchard. We thinks bluejays, mourning doves, and at least one woodpecker are nesting, too, but we can't find the nests.

I love knowing that our property isn't just our home, but is home for many other creatures. I wish it wasn't home for a groundhog, but I welcome each and every nest. May it be safe and warm.

Copyright 2010,

Monday, May 31, 2010


I hate slugs. I generally like many insects, birds, frogs, salamanders, snakes - all kinds of creatures except slugs and eels.

Yesterday, I washed off countless slugs from lettuce and spinach I brought in from the garden. Little one, big ones - clearly it has been a slugfest in the greens bed. So I called my husband and had him pick up slug beer. I still use cat food cans from my dearly departed cats - gone over a decade but living on in slug hunting. Beer in cans throughout the garden is still the most effective and easiest way I know to rid me of having to look at a slug competing with me for lettuce leaves.

I was relieved that my husband was out doing errands and thus the getting-the-beer task fell to him. It is soooo embarrassing when I do it.

I generally ask the merchant what the cheapest beer they have is - no reason to overspend on the nasty slimers - and I inevitably over explain. Do they care why I want the cheapest beer made? No. But I always feel compelled to defend my honor and tell them the beer is not for my consumption, but for the slug cans. Do I look like a Pabst Blue Ribbon affectionado? Probably not. Especially when I buy singles. But I always tell them, apologetically, "It's not for me, it is for slugs in the garden".  They shrug, clearly signalling "whatever, lady".

Perhaps the thing to do is give the slugs decent beer, and take a swig or two while I bait the murderous traps. Bring out the evil in me. No explaining. Eastwood style. With a glint in my eye.

Of course, if I am tipsy there is the danger I'd go the other way: "oh, look at these poor misunderstood creatures....."

Cheap beer it is.

Copyright 2010,

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Spring vegetable gardens are a lot of work, with just the promise of reward. Dig, dig, dig. Plant, plant, plant. Add all the perennial borders: trim, trim, trim, weed, weed, weed, mulch, mulch, mulch.

One of the first rewards is pulling up perfect round radish orbs. I have planted just about every type of radish, but the little Cherry Belle types are still my favorite. Plant some seeds earlyish, and before you know it, you have peppery little sweeties for your salads.  I am on my third planting before Memorial Day.

Of course, they are so darn quick and easy that their virtue can be your vice. I always forget them a little too long and end up wasting some, letting them get woody or cracked. Today, however, I pulled up a bunch of them because they were perfect, and I didn't want any to be wasted!  Plus, they have so few calories I can eat them with abandon. Not they way the French do - with fresh butter - although I'd love to. Woodbury Kitchen serves them with tarragon butter that is my idea of heaven. One of the best things I ever did with a radish was to mince them up, and to butter, and spread thickly on pumpernickel bread for an appetizer. But I need to stick to the less buttery, and caloric, choices. I have too many for just adding to green salads (though I have so much lettuce every friend may be eating such salads this week, too). The Produce Bible has a recipe for a salad with cucumber, celery, shallot, avocado, radishes, and cilantro - with a vinaigrette. I think I will be substituting garlic scrapes from the Farmer's Market yesterday, and perhaps Italian parsley since I have a lot in the garden. But I am keeping the avocado, cucumber, and radish combination.

If any readers have radish recipes to share, please do!

Copyright 2010,

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fresh Picked

One of the benefits of growing your own vegetables is that you know what "fresh picked" looks and tastes like.  So when you buy something that the seller claims is "just picked", and you notice deflated pods, stringyness, loss of crispness, fading color, soft spots - you know the claims are not true. You know that "fresh picked" still has the warmth of the sunshine on it, the bite of all its flavor, the aroma of its essence and perhaps a bit of dirt. My "favorite thing" in the vegetable garden is always what I am harvesting at the moment, just as my favorite thing in the flower gardens is what is blooming. The best of the best? Whatever is picked in the garden and eaten on the spot!

So the peas we purchased at a farm stand were not just picked, but they look great nonetheless. Since mine are still blooming and not yet podded, I was excited to find these so I could start shelling. It takes a lot of shelling to get 3 cups for fresh pea soup, but the extra work seems approriate for a dish that gives so many rewards. I also pulled up a huge amount of mint from my going-to-be melon and squash bed, so it looks like Fresh Pea Soup with Mint is on its way!

Copyright 2010,

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Planting Day

Every spring, there is at least one weekend of sunup-to-sundown planting in the vegetable garden. Today was one of those days, so I am writing this while stiff and sore! My vegetables went in late - first we went away for our anniversary, then my dad came to visit, and yesterday was devoted to a family get together that folks had been planning since winter. Finally today I could get all my seedlings out of the basement and into the garden!

It hasn't been such a great seedling year. I think my light bulbs needed to be full specturm, although these same bulbs have worked in years past. But my sprouts were spindly and weak, and didn't have many "real"  leaves when planted. But now they are snuged into a garden bed, amended by composted manure, surrounded by cutworm collars, and in pretty warm soil. So now it is up to them to show me what they've got. Grow, baby, grow!

When we went to Longwood Gardens for our anniversary, Jonathan admired a trellis system in the vegetable garden, so he volunteered to make me one this spring. Bless his heart - a great gift! We needed to trim (or take out) some of the apple trees, so he found six (mostly) straight branches to cut down for the supports,  and added a few bamboo posts.  Covered it with a wide plastic mesh, perfect for large vines. Though a simple project, it took quite a while to execute, and he will be sore as well this evening. I'll post a picture if I have a rain-free day soon. I planted the few remaining winter squash seeds left from last year -  an unusual variety that was incredible, so hopefully the seeds are still viable. On the other side, I planted a mini cantaloupe that I also grew last year.  Underneath at the sides I planted a winter squash meant for container growing - a Bush Delicata. It doesn't seem possible to grown winter squash in a container, so I am excited to see how the plant develops. I still have some room on the trellis, but am out of seeds. Another seed order in my future?

 Copyright 2010,

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cutworm Collars

Just in case any beginning organic veggie gardeners are reading this blog: don't forget your cutworm collars!

If you have been nuturing little seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, and other tenders since February as I have, you are about to put them outside to grow like crazy. But in a flash, all your seedlings can be lost overnight. Cutworms. I have never actually seen one at work - but I have had my heart broken by their damage. Precious little seedlings gone.

The solution is to make small cardboard rings for your seedlings. I make mine out of posterboard or cardstock - nothing too heavy. I save cardboard that comes with shirts or with the package of laser printer labels, but I am not above just buying a sheet of poster board. I cut a strip perhaps 2 1/2 to 3 inches tall, and as wide as needed to make a circle that fits right around the plant with some wiggle room. Staple together. Makes a great project to do while watching TV.

As you plant your seedlings, put a cardboard ring around each plant, pushing it into the ground just a bit, because if it comes up, the cutworm can just crawl under and cut the stem. Cutworms can't handle older stems, just the young and tender, so the rings don't have to last all season. Rain won't destroy them, but eventually you will want to remove the remains once the stems are nice and strong.

I have done this for more years than I can count, and it makes a big differnce. A few years back I thought I would save time by eliminating this step... of course, you know the end of this story...

  Copyright 2010,

Second Harvest: Rhubarb

My father's girlfriend, Karen, is what he calls "an old fashioned cook". What I love is her enthusiasm. She loves cooking, and passing on what she knows. She not a gardener - but she knows a rhubarb plant from a distance, and shows no mercy in harvesting it!

My dad and Karen came for a visit just in time for Karen to spy my rhubarb ready for harvest. So we ravished the plant, and I made a strawberry-rhubarb pie using a recipe from my newest favorite cookbook, Dishing Up Maryland by Lucie Snodgrass, just published this year. Added fresh whipped cream from South Mountain Creamery and WOW, what a treat. It was great!

The one caveat: I didn't make the pie crust from scratch. I've gotten lazy in recent years, nearly always using Pillsubry's pre-made refrigerated crusts. They are so easy!! But homemade is not that hard, either.

Karen had the solution. Her mother used to come to her house for a visit, and would ask her what she could do to help. Karen often asked for pie crusts. So now she's passing it on another generation - she shared her pie crust recipe, and we made enough for 6 crusts, freezing them as disks. Having multiple homemade crusts on hand in the freezer is a wonderful convenience- and rolling them takes very little time, so it is almost as easy as the store-bought variety. Thanks, Karen!!

She also makes a rhubarb pie, but without strawberries. She was polite about my pie, but she claims hers is wonderful. So I am waiting for a few more stalks to appear so I can reap another harvest to put her pie to the test: is it better? I have a feeling it just may be...

My friend Ellen suggests Rhubarb Relish, which she made a few years ago. I have a ton of rhubarb relish recipes, so this weekend I am going to try one or two, or more likely, invent my own. I love the idea of the relish with a rich meat like beef or buffalo, or with pork. It also makes weeknight cooking so much easier if I can just throw meat on the grill knowing that the flavor boost is going to come from a relish or homemade roasted tomato catsup. Easy without being boring.

Rhubarb is a great garden addition because it's huge (poisonous) leaves are so dramatic. I like adding more perennials to the veggie garden, so I may need to add a few more rhubarb. It is truly carefree - pests do not seem to bother it, and it doesn't mind a bit of drought. And the stalks are sooo tasty - good thing I have lots of pie crusts ready!

Copyright 2010,

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wood Poppy

I'm not positive I have it's name right, but here is what I think is a Wood Poppy in the woods in my back yard. It was a new addition last year, and it seems to be a happy plant under the pines and spruces. It is no delicate little wildflower - it has a substance to it. Cold doesn't seem to faze it. Our collie can walk over it and it springs back. What a great plant. I hope ie reseeds all over the place!

Copyright 2010,

Merrybells in the Shade Border, early April

Copyright 2010,

Redbud, Early April

When I was growing up, we have two crabapples sentinels opening to the backyard, and one perfect Redbud on the left side. It had a graceful shape, the perfect small tree. And the buds! The delicate pink flowers were my favorite of the spring blooms. That was in Michigan. In my early thrities, I moved to the east coast and found out that Redbuds were native to the local hardwood forests, unlike in my home state. I have been enchanted since then, and visits to the woods in ealry spring takes my breath away. On our property, we have a wooded area that is second growth and degraded from what I see as the natural woods. We are adding dogwoods and redbuds to create a second story canpoy, and although it is taking a while, the redbuds are starting to grow.  Perfect. 

First Harvest: Mint

I was excited to have my first harvest meal of the year: Mint Marinated Lamb Kebabs.

I am one of those dummies that palnted mint years ago that wasn't properly contained (look to make sure the pot doesn't have drainage holes!!), and as a reuslt, I have been pulling it out of vegetable beds, paths, and flower beds for the last decade and a half.

It is one of the first plants back to life in the spring, and I pull it up with as many roots as I can get. I know there are more roots, and I will see more mint. Later in the year, it sneaks under other plants, and I may not notice it when the leaves are still nice and tender, so the "harvests" from weeding can't be used. But in spring, the mint is fresh, green, and tender, and oh-so-good. I planted some of it is a pot - always optimistic that it won't escape this time - so I can have fresh, tender mint for cooking later in the year, then took the roots off the rest and chopped it up for the marinade.

So if you have mint invading your beds, please try the marinade. It is wonderful on lamb, the natural mint combination (I used lamb from Evermore Farms, which is wonderful), but could be used on beef or buffalo as well.  I used about a pound and a half of meat, trimmed of fat. Here is the approximate mix:

Juice of one lemon (throw in some of the peel, too)
2 Tablespoons Honey
Big handful of fresh, minced mint (perhaps a cup)
4 cloves of minced garlic

Cut the meat into large chunks - 2 to 3 inch on each side. Put the marinade ingredients (mixed) and the meat in a Ziploc gallon bag or (slightly safer) in a lidded glass container and marinate in the refrigerator for no less than one hour or more than overnight. Take the meat out of the marinade, and put on metal skewers, leaving some room in between the chunks for most even cooking. Grill. Eat. Enjoy plain or with a sauce of equal amounts of greek yogurt and tahini.

Yum. One great weed.

Copyright 2010,

Work, Play, and the Creation of Beauty.

When I started my blog, it was supposed to be "life outside the office". I wrote a lot, then stopped. Clearly, there hasn't been enough "outside the office" in the last few months.

But the garden is blooming like crazy, veggies are popping, and my kitchen is starting to reflect the fresh harvests again. It is time to reclaim a balanced life between work and play.  My "play" involves one heck of a lot of work. Digging, planting, weeding outside. Chopping, sauteeing, baking inside. Whew.

When spending hours and hours and hours weeding and mulching last weekend, I can't say I was always having fun. Gardening involves a lot of grunt labor. So does good cooking - there is not a lot of glamour in endless vegetable chopping. But in both cases, the payoff is so great: the creation of beauty.

Beauty is the payoff. Visual beauty, glorious taste - I am a glutton for the sensual rewards of my labor. My eyes widen in celebration of a bloom, or the textured created by overlapping foliage. My taste buds rejoice in fresh, healthy foods.

I am not alone. Yesterday, Joanthan and I went to Longwood Gardens to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. It was crowded, of course, with people basking in the beauty of thousands of flower bulbs, forest wildflowers, and sniffing incredible fragrances. It took hundreds and hundreds of hours of labor to create such beauty - and none of it was my own labor. Joy, joy, joy!                    

Copyright 2010,

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hoop Houses

There is no celebrity chef at my house - although any are most welcome to visit - but I have one thing in common with Sam Kass at the White House - we've both tried hoop houses around the same time of year. Mine gained me an extra month or so of crops, but they didn't give me the "year round gardening" that is hyped by the USDA. But then again,I didn't put strong sides on mine as they are doing in the White House/USDA video -

So I will try again this spring and this fall. When I started my current vegetable garden 17 years ago, I tried to stagger my harvests, and had complicated planting charts. Somewhere in the rush of life, the garden disintegrated into a plant-it-all-at-once, single harvest vegetable patch. My annual soil enrichment program turned into a bi-annual enrichment. My 27 varieties turned into Big Boy tomato plants from Wal-Mart. But the surge in vegetable gardening interest is inspirational, and once again, I have big plans.

This year I will start all my seeds on time (except those that I just learned should have already been planted). I will start the peas outside at the correct time so they aren't trying to bloom in July. I will put all the compost on each bed, lovingly, before planting, adding my kelp meal and cottonseed meal as I go, along with other composted goodies. I will test my PH. I will stagger my planting dates for continual harvests. I will have hierlooms, open pollinated, organic seeds, and deal with minor infestations the moment they begin. My garden will be beautiful, worthy of its own You Tube stardom.

Yeah, right. Late January dreams.  But I think I'll check if tht old video camera works...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Melaluca Link

A friend of mine left me a voice mail today. She's found a new product, and knowing how green I am, thought I might want to attend a party to learn about it.

She's right - they are right up my alley. I have been using Melaluca products for years! I've often thought about sharing them with my friends, but I am not comfortable with the selling at home parties type of thing. No one thinks you actually like the products; they think you just want to make money. So I continue to use the products and keep the secret to myself.

I started using them because I wanted to rid my house of at least some of the toxic chemincals in my house, and cleaning supplies seemed like a good place to start. There is no good reason to use a cleaner that burns your eyes or makes your skin itch. There are a few things I will still use a harsh chemical for - a mold outbreak, maybe. But for the most part, it seems safer and smarter to use something more gentle and natural. What was I thinking before when I put stickers on cleaners to show my chid they were icky and not to be swallowed? Isn't it wasier to get rid of them?

I also use some of the supplements, and after finding out I was allergic to parabens in makeup, I started using some of the makeup line.

I am just the kind of customer that should be talking to other customers. But I am a bit jealous - my friend has taken the initiative I should have taken. But at least I can testify for her customers that yes, she is selling a great product!

Copyright 2010,

Friday, January 22, 2010

Working Out

I am surfing the net for the best price for a Wii and WiiFit. My birthday is coming up, and I thought it might be a nice gift. I am choking on the price. Do I really need something like this to make me exercise? Why is it such work to exercise?

Come spring, every muscle will be worked to exhaustion. I will go outside at 6 am, and return 6 pm, filthy, sore, and oh-so-content. Turning beds, digging holes, moving rock and mulch and compost - that's my kind of fitness. I like work. Inside, I can paint and fix and work quite contently for hours on end. It has purpose, and it creates beauty.

But as a gift? "Oh, honey, I'd really like some hard work for my birthday". I don't think so. So I am surfing again.    

Copyright 2010,

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The White House Vegetable Garden

OK, I'll admit it - I love Michelle Obama. I am not easily star struck, but I am a true fan. I love her intelligence, her ability and willingness to hug people, especially children. I admire the way she is raising her children, how she maintains a healthy relationship with her husband. And I am envious of her toned arms shown off in sleeveless dresses.

But it is her vegetable garden that makes me smile the most. The idea if turning the lawn into veggies was inpsired, and even if it wasn't orginally her idea, she is the one championing it and causing Americans all over the country to take up veggie gardening. I don't hink that we need to all become gardeners, but I know from experience that growing your own food - even lettuce on a deck - gets us connected to the earth again. It reminds us to eat real food, not simply overprocessed and overmarketed goods.

Every child should get the chance to shell peas. When my son was little, I used to put fresh peas in his lunch bag, but he would only eat them if they were still in the pod! Involving the local schoolchildren in the White House vegetable garden is such a life changing experience for them, and I admire her taking the time to get her hands dirty with them. When I was a naturalist for a summer at a Girl Scout camp in Ohio, one girl was traumatized to learn that carrots were actually roots living in dirt.  Too sad - and preventable.

My friends think of me as a gardener, but I'm basically a vegetable gardener that has discovered the joy of perennial borders. My heart lies in the tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and green beans of the raised beds. The rise in popularity of my hobby has had its drawbacks - some of my supply vendors were sold out or backed up so that the season was nearly over by the time I got supplies - but I welcome new hobbyists to find the same joy I do in planting seeds, watching them grow, nuturing the plants, harvesting the food, and composting the remains to begin the year again.

And maybe, just maybe, digging new beds will help my arms to look a little bit more like the First Lady's.

Copyright 2010,

Friday, January 15, 2010


I am guessing it hit 60 degrees today. People were walking outside with coats open, visibly lighter. Fewer scowls. A more leisurely pace. It is still winter, of course, but the break in the frigid gives us a chance to wash our cars, walk outside in the sunshine without bracing ourselves, bring in things that should have be in months ago. And breathe.

I saw some green shoots peeking up, probably crocus; too early to tell. I wanted to tell it "no, no little ones, stop peeking!", but of course I'd feel too silly. There are bird flocks stripping the trees of the last of the berries. Some wrens were scoping out houses already. Has global warming changed the calendar that much? No, it is the same every year.

One thaw to break the monotony of cold and blustery. Like a long breath.. but the type that ends in a sharp cough. Winter rains are moving in. 

Copyright 2010,

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I saw a friend today who is undergoing a heck of a lot of stress. In talking about stress and health, she asked if I had read a particular book on meat production. Hadn't. She said she and her husband are now vegetarians.

I was a vegetarian in college, but not since then. I didn't become a vegetarian because of animal cruelty; I was simply trying to balance out my dad. I had read Diet for a Small Planet, and figured that less meat eating was a good thing. As an environmental science major, I thought I should take action. Since my father is a the-more-red-meat-the-better kind of guy, I figured my vegetarianism balanced out his meat eating so that combined we ate in a more sustainable, healthy way. But I am his daughter, after all, and I missed hot dogs. Seriously. I got tired of trying to eat out with no choices (there are lots and lots of choices now). So eventually I went back to being an omnivore.

At first, it was hard to eat meat because I didn't know how to buy it or cook it. I had been a vegetarian since living under my mother's roof, and although she taught me to cook, I didn't know that much. I would stare at the meat packages at the grocery store, pick something, and come home and call my mom and read Joy of Cooking.

It isn't a simple decision, but like Michael Pallin and Barbara Kingsolver, I've given it a lot of thought, and am comfortable eating meats. But I try not to lose sight of what it means. I say grace at dinner, always thanking God for the animal's life. It's the least I can do.

  Copyright 2010,

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tea Time

I am a coffee lover. Hot, black, plentiful. Although I have a cupboard full of teas, mainly herbal, which descriptions that sounded great when I bought them, I've never been much of a tea drinker.

Until now. I was dieting pretty steadily last spring and summer, and felt the deprivation accutely. My solution was to have a cup of tea whenever I wanted a sweet. I had lots and lots and lots of cups of teas. My sister gave me an electric tea kettle, and it has gotten a steady workout this year. I have breakfast tea, mid-morning tea, the-house-is-freezing tea, need a work break tea, afternoon tea, dinner tea, and bedtime tea. Everything but high tea. Not that I would mind that - I love the scones and clotted cream at a tea room, but that does tend to blow one's diet.

I have green teas, black teas, red teas, and white teas. Citrus and floral, lots of chai. Tea that I don't dare try (why did I buy Tea for Tension? It makes me tense wondering what is in there; that and the sinus tea are no doubt foul).

Now we are contemplating going the next step: making whole pots of tea. Just like most of the world. Like real adults with gracious dining habits. But it is hard to go from endless tea bags on the counter to actual tea making rituals, putting the pot on the table during dinner. So formal. So proper. So two generations ago.

I would need a decent teapot, of course, not that gift that is functional but not our style. Do I want to commit to being a teadrinker that much? Yes. Yes, because the cast iron Japanese style teapots are such works of art. Yes, because we need more graciousness in our meals. Yes, because this diet has no end in sight.

And even Starbucks has tea.
Copyright 2010,

Monday, January 11, 2010


No matter how pure I try to make my food, not matter how local, organic, how original the taste, my palate will always want Kisses. Lots and lots of Kisses. Like Pavlov's dog, I salivate the moment I see the shiny foil hugging the teardrop-plop of chocolate. At a meeting today, every table had a bowl of them. Never mind that they weren't my favorite dark chocolate. I can resist most other milk chocolate, but a kiss - forget about it. I put them in my mouth, and later in my pocket. Where they certainly did not have have time to melt.

Copyright 2010,

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Red Peppers

Weekends have a rythmn and a routine, and it always includes looking ahead to the work week and making the menu and grrocery list. I am more compulsive about this than most people. Each day has the evening activities noted that would compete with cooking time so I know whether it is a slow food day or a 15 minute dinner. The cookbook name and page number is noted in the margin each day, if used. The category is next to the day - meat, meatless, fish, poultry - so that I keep our diet balanced.

In the summer, there is always the line "harvest" so I know what is coming out of the garden, not the market. This time of year, that line item becomes "thaw". This week, I am thawing famer's market beef, and from my garden, basil pesto and red peppers.

This is the last of the peppers in the freezer. This wasn't a good pepper year. It was a wonderful year for virtually everything else in the garden, but the peppers suffered in the rain. They were leafy and healthy, but slow. We ran out of summer before most of them ripened, so red was a rare color in the pepper bed.

So now I will pay the high price for fresh peppeers at the supermarket until mid summer. But I hope I will be smarter this year. For years, I never knew that peppers froze so well, so I didn't keep the harvest. For the past few years, I have sliced and frozen green, yellow, red, and an occasional purple bell pepper (my husband's diet doesn't include hot peppers). But I continued to pay high prices for roasted red peppers. Dummy! For less than $2, I can get a pack of seeds that will give me more peppers than I can pick. Throw them on the grill, and Bam! (thanks, Emeril), roasted red peppers for the year.

When the rythymn of the winter weekends turns to long, frenetic summer days spent outside, I'm hoping I will make the time to make next winter's grocery list a little easier, cheaper, and more organic by saving my peppers, roasting them, and capturing the warmth of the summer to be released in the cold of winter.  That can't be captured on any list.    

Copyright 2010,

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hankies and Bandannas

Pat Hecker makes makes beautiful art works (check out her tatoodreams blog), many of which reside in my sister's home. Among my favorites are the Kleenex cover in her bathroom. Which got me to thinking - what was life like before paper tissues ruled? When I went unprepared to a touching memorial service for a friend this week, another friend gave me four tissues. One generation ago, it would have been a hankie.

My mom always had each purse stocked with a hankie, a pen, a comb, and a pillbox. She simply moved her wallet and lipstick so that she was always prepared. Me, I have to transfer the wallet, the cell phone, three pairs of glasses (sun, distance, reading), three checkbooks (2 personal, one business), 2 sets of business cards, the cellphone extra battery since I am forever forgetting to charge it, the flashdrive, a pen, and the mini Kleenex pack, which is always open and getting cruddy from the bottom-of-the-purse litter. Comb? Lost it two decades ago.

At my mom's memorial service, I tried my best to get through my prepared remarks without bawling, but the tears came near the end anyway. So my dad hauls out his trusty (huge) red bandanna to wipe my tears away, turning my tears to laughter. The big guy's hankie.

If I was as green as I like to think I am, I would wash and iron the hankies and go stock my purse. I would pile up the bandannas for home use (instead of reserving them for napkins that look oh-so-cute with the blue speckle ware on the picnic table). I would look at my body's extra fluids as washable, not disposable. I would stop thinking of hankies as delicate reminders of a more gentle age, and think of them as the hardworking but lace covered necessities.

But then I would not need handrafted tissue box covers. Art always suffers.      

Copyright 2010,

Friday, January 8, 2010

Organic, Open Pollinated, Local, and Biodynamic Confusion

Like millions of other gardeners buried in snow, I am furiously pouring over seed catalogs as I bundle under the comforter and sip tea. I have page corners carefully turned down, post-it flags sticking out the sides and tops, and pages are marked with not one, but two colors of highlighters. I am amazed how complicated I can make this simple annual task of choosing seeds for the kitchen garden.

Last year, many of my seeds were labled "biodynamic", chosen because that sounded good and mighty. I would get around to figuring out why "biodynamic" seeds were better later. They performed marveously; I had one of my best gardens in many years, although I'm fairly certain it had more to do with rainfall and weather patterns than the seeds. So this year went back to that seed company's website to find out the definition. Nothing!! I have searched and searched, and the best I can tell, they reveal nothing. Googling the terms brings reams of inrformation abotu biodynmaic farming and all of its benefits, but that does not tell me a darned thing about the seeds and how they are different. This year, I'm not paying for the hype unless it is clear what they mean. It's like putting "natural" on a food label - marketing hooey unless there is real information and different production practices behind it.

Since I garden organically (perhaps because it is easier), I gravitate toward organic seed. It makes logical sense to me that we should lessen the load of pesticides in our bodies; it can't be a bad thing. But I am no purist. If a plant description is good enough, I'll bite even if it isn't organic if an organic alternative is not available.

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden seed catalog gives an excellent summary of the difference between hybrid and open pollinated seeds in the first page of the catalog, which I was very pleased to see. I am making an effort to use as many non-hybrid "OP" seeds as I can this year, since I have read an awful lot about the concentration of plant types by the near complete domination in farming by only a few seed companies with hyrid seeds (if you haven't watched the documentary Food, Inc., please do so!). I want the ability to save my seeds if I choose; I want to encourage plant divesity and keep heirloom varieties. My veggies aren't going to the market.

My pile of seed catalogs is towering, but I cannot yet buy. I am waiting for the catalog from a small seed company fairly local to me - I expect their seeds to work well in my climate of oh-so-sticky summers - and frankly, I like supporting samll businesses. A lot.

So I wait by the mailbox, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the last, most perfect descriptions of the epitome of seeds: the organically grown, open pollinated, heirloom seeds for my (very mini) biodynamic farm (bed). Only then will I plunk down my hard-earned $3.95.

Copyright 2010,

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vitamin D

I popped a Vitamin D pill this morning. To some, this seems like a reasonable and healthy thing to do. To me, it felt like defeat. If I am not getting enough Vitamin D, I am not getting outside enough. It means I've given in to the winter winds. It means I don't want to walk outside, instead walking on the elipitcal machine in the basement. It is not the same. Being outside calms me. It reminds me of the world that is bigger than myself. There is always something remarkable or beautiful. That can't be found in a supplement or an exercise machine.

But as I write this, I see a robin on the branch outside my office window. In January! He is either too late or too early, but the sight of him reminds me that after January is February, when seeds are planted, and March, ready for peas. I'll get my sunshine again soon, and put away the supplements for next winter.

Copyright 2010,

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hellebores vs. Kiwis

I've put my family on a post-Christmas fiscal diet, although the only one it really affects is me, the spender. No where will it be tougher than in the garden. Spring without an unlimited checkbook will doubtless cause wailing. But after all the gifts were given, I ended up with an extra American Express giftcard, and I figure that it is OK to spend it on seeds or plants (funny how I can always find a way....).

So here is the dilmmea. The new Heronswood catalog has a picture of a compelling, beutiful hellebore on its cover, and I want it. Bad. It appears black, although it is a deep purple, as are all the so-called "black" flowers. I have just the place in my garden - in fact, two places. I love hellebores. In my Zone 6 garden, they don't bloom in the winter as all the books and catalogs claim, but in early spring, along with bloodroot. They both cause my heart to race, my eyes to widen, and giggles to fall out of my mouth. Early spring flowers are unadlterated joy. Every year, it is as if spring has never come before, a miracle just unfolding for the first time. Hellebores are the first sign of the beauty to come, proof that life renews, and that it is good. Better yet, the herds of deer that roam my yard seem to be content eating every living thing except my hellebores. And Heronswood's hellebore would complement my existing patches perfectly.

Except then I can't get the kiwi.

Locust Books in Westminster, Maryland, always highlights books I simply must read. A visit last spring resulted in the purchase of The Backyard Homestead. It is just my type of fantasy read: how to make your little suburban lot into an (almost) self-sufficient mini farm. I already wanted chickens and bees; now there was more to do! A couple a weeks before purchasing the book, I tore an article out of the local paper about local fruits - some of which I did not know were native or hardy. The book confirmed it - my little yard was native fruit deficient.

Enter the hardy kiwi. According to the garden catalogs, it is not like the tropicl kiwi we all put in our fruit salads, but is smaller and not fuzzy. Full of vitamin C, and tasty. But it was the picture that captivated me. The leaves are incredible - green and pink! Like a coleus in the sunshine, a decorative vine that bears fruit. Plant a male and a female on a trellis. OK, I said to my self, I am adding that to the yard next year!

But then we have to buy or build a trellis or arbor. And there is just one little gift card.
Hmmm. A great flower or healthy fruit?

Copyright 2010,

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bird Tree

We are just about "de-Christmased", so the Christmas tree is now bare and installed on the back deck -tied to the railing against the persistent winds - ready for its next phase. Later today, it becomes the Bird Tree for the rest of January. We do this every year, but I readily admit that there are years that the tree makes it outside, but it never gets decorated!

My good friend Sue made me a beautiful pine cone wreath with each cone smeared with peanut butter and seeds, so that will become the highlight of the tree. Decorations are usually more humble! I will add lots of individual pine cones with a mixture of peanut butter and bread crumbs, rolled in seeds. I use dental floss to hang them; it is strong enough that the birds can't carry the cone off, though the squirrels will decimate them in a matter of days. I usually make about 20 cones, although with the wreath I may be able to cut the number down this time.

Here are the other things I normally put on the Bird Tree:

  • Orange halves, with vegetable shortening and seeds on top, and/or orange slices
  • Lots of millet sprays (I've tried growing them, but usually buy)
  • Dried sunflower heads (from the garden, but the crows got them all this year!)
  • cups made of egg carton cups, filled with peanut butter and seeds or suet and seeds
  • suet circles or squares, hanging from floss
  • swags of popcorn, sometimes with cranberries
  • seed heads from the garden
  • This year, I'm filling old sugar ice cream cones since I have a bunch left from summer
  • wheat - the decorative type at Wal-Mart works great - and grasses with heads
  • Cheerios (more likely a generic unsweetened) - I string them on floss into ovals
  • ears of dried corn, though they will be carried off right away
  • lots of seeds randomly thrown in the branches
  • whole peanuts, either strings (with dental floss) or individually hanging like ornaments
  • any nuts we have left over from things; I ground too many almonds for baking, so I kept the leftovers to mix into bird tree ornaments; some years it has been nuts in the shell
  • any "leftover" garden seeds I won't be using this year- where there were only a few left in a seed pack, or a variety I thought I'd grow but didn't
  • When we cleaned out the kitchen cupboards for painting this fall, there was an abundance of raisins, so they will be incorporated as well
The bird tree does a lot. It gives small birds refuge within its branches, so they can dart across the yard into the lilac bush, then from the lilac to the Christmas tree. It adds warmth and protection from the resident hawk that hunts our feeders. It feeds virtually every kind of bird we attract in our yard. It gives extra protein to the squirrels, so they can entertain us in the dark days of winter. While I have never seen other mammals at the tree, it is likely that some of the treats end up in the stomachs of raccoons. Certainly mice will benefit from the seeds dropping from the second story deck to the yard below. If I hang enough treats, all can be fed, and the gang of crows can't carry it all away.
The bird tree used to be a project with my son, but at 15, he doesn't find it entertaining. I continue. For me, it is pure joy to watch the birds flit in and out. I feel like I am nurturing "my" flock. It is a warm feeling in a cold month, worth all the stickiness of peanut butter coated fingers.

Copyright 2010,

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Oh, drat, another demise. My favorite daily e-newsletter hasn't been coming lately, so I did a search and my eco-savvy daily tips - Ideal Bite - has been bought out by Disney for $15 million. Apparently it was small but favored by the "red wine after yoga" crowd, and we are a desired demographic. Sorry, Disney, I'm not going to follow. On the other hand, good going Heather and the Biters!

Copyright 2010,

The End of Abundance

It had to come, this first day after the end of the feasting season. I am happy it arrived; I've spent all day cooking again and again from Thanksgiving through New Year's, and I am tired. I need a winter's rest. My husband is cleaning and reorganizing the cold, cold garage - our extra cold storage area during feasting season - so that it can become an automobile home again. I am defrocking the Christmas tree, getting myself tangled in the wires of the lights. In a few days, my gardening year will begin with the annual inventory of seeds. But for now, we finish the last leftover rich foods and prepare for a winter's digestive rest and recovery. As we take down the exterior lights and retreat into darkness, it seems right to practice austerity in money, food, and personal habits. The garden rests; the kitchen rests; and so do we.

Copyright 2010,

Friday, January 1, 2010


A couple of weeks ago we rented Julie and Julia on DVD. I laughed, cried, and loved it. My mother was one of the legions of women who followed Julia and were fearless in the kitchen. I never knew marshmallow fluff; I did, however, eat all kinds of weird stuff I couldn't pronounce, and to this day love a good souffle (made by others). When I was old enough, my present to my mom on her birthday was to make a nice dinner all by myself. I took a picture of her beaming over the roast chicken. Julia inspired her cooking; she inspired mine; and Meryl Streep brought it all back.

My mother passed away 2 years ago. I called my dad, told him about the movie, and asked him if my mom's copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking was still around. It was, and he gave it to me for Christmas. Today I made the Almond Lemon Tart, and it was fabulous. Took hours. Made a mess. But the taste was just perfect - Julia still rocks.

Copyright 2010,