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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,