Saturday, July 6, 2013

Time and the Garden

I love watching plants grow - every morning, I walk out and something has changed every time - the tomato plants have grown new suckers, the eggplants have formed their flower stalks and the peas, in this banner year for peas, have produced a new crop of peas - even though I picked them yesterday.

On a human scale, one day is not that much time -- but in the garden, one day can bring a pint of strawberries and the next day only three (or if you've been enjoying this rainy, rainy June like we had, a pile of moldy red goo.) And the day after that, the kale is ready to be picked again. Every day is different and every day is significant.

Having written this, I realize that my farmer friends may laugh at this, because there are certainly days where you're planting onions or picking radishes all day long for several days straight. The work may be the same (weeding, pruning, watering, weeding, picking, addressing pest problems, more weeding), but the plant life is constantly changing.

So far, I am having fewer pest problems this year than last - knock on wood - but there is something eating my dill. These guys are serious eating machines!

These beauties will turn into yellow swallowtail butterflies! Normally, I'm pretty harsh on caterpillars eating my plants, but I have a self-seeded dill forest and I'm happy to share it with the swallowtails.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Bouquet of Lilac Flowers

My heart has a special corner in it for Cornus florida, the flowering dogwood. When I was a little girl, we had a flowering dogwood in the front yard and its exuberant white flowers charmed me each spring.

In high school, I learned that dogwoods are one of the few opposite-branching trees and shrubs (part of the MAD CAP HORSE* crowd.)

During undergrad, I learned and then taught that the dogwood's white flowers are not petals at all, but modified leaves called bracts. The actual flowers are the tiny structures in the center of the bracts. Also, the wood was used for golf clubs - back when golf clubs were made of real wood. (Watch the YouTube video of Dr. Leopold** teaching Cornus florida - "Many regard it as the most beautiful of all our native trees.")

Finally, during a two-month stint at Overlook Farm, we sang the song "Wagon Wheel" at least once a day. On breaks from farm chores, I'd wander the forests and town streets looking for "a bouquet of dogwood flowers" but to no avail.

Sadly, flowering dogwoods are not so common in New England as in the mid-Atlantic and do not bloom in our yard this time of year, so I must substitute for another charming spring-flowering tree: the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris).

There are many reasons to recommend the lilac as my new favorite spring flower: It's the New Hampshire state flower and typically blooms here just in time for Mother's Day. The wood is streaked with purple. Our lilac hedge may be almost 100 years old and a pair of birds nest in it each spring. Mountains of pale purple, fragrant flowers are just now starting to open their petals. While I don't know of any song about picking a bouquet of lilac flowers, I'm hopeful that someone will write that song one day.

Really, could anything be more lovely?
I hope this brightens your day. Happy Mothers' Day!

Click to enlarge - you'll be glad you did.

*MAD CAP HORSE refers to Maple, Ash, Dogwood, Caprifoliaceae and Horse Chestnut - this is a helpful mnemonic to remember the small number of trees and shrubs that have opposite branching. Caprifoliaceae is a family of shrubs and small trees, including viburnums, elderberry and honeysuckle among others.

** Dr. Don Leopold's teaching and mentoring was hugely influential in my college education, teaching approach and ever-deepening appreciation for trees. You can learn the key defining characteristics of 100+ North American tree species by watching the SUNY-ESF YouTube Channel. If you are interested in native plants not just trees, I recommend his book Native Plants of the Northeast.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

April Flowers

I've been gawking at several florist/flower farm blogs lately, completely blown away by the gorgeous arrangements showcasing old timey flowers and subtle color palettes. I think that I've been anxious to see spring flowers, as northern New England is still shaking off the end of winter. The grass is greening up, but the gardens are still looking pretty bare. 

It took a little bit of doing, but I was able to pull together a small early spring bouquet by traipsing around the yard. My April bouquet is composed of jonquils, daffodils, lilac, white pine, crabapple, myrtle and a red-twigged shrub that has sent suckers from my neighbor's yard onto our side lawn.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The garden in April

Can't stop the daffodils

Hello, springtime!

Well, it may be more accurate to say "Hello, mud season."

Maple sugaring season is done, and we've had some blue sky days, but it's still too wet to step foot into the garden to rake out the autumn leaves and winter sand from the plow trucks.

Thus, my gardening duties have been fairly light so far. It's still too wet to step foot into the garden to rake out the autumn leaves and winter sand from the plow trucks.

Here's an April garden report:

  • I do have seedlings started in the "attic" above the woodstove. 
  • Most of the tomatoes have been repotted into larger pots.
  • I planted one raised bed on Saturday with peas, beets, radishes, kale, chard, spinach and scallions.
  • The chickens got to kick around in the back yard over the weekend.
  • The daffodils have pushed up through a layer of leaves and are showing off their flower buds.
I've been trolling the Internet for some gardening and garden trellis ideas - and Pinterest have been particularly helpful. I really want to do more with flowers and groundcovers this year and Pinterest is great for alluring garden landscapes. I've got a Pinterest board called Garden Inspiration, if you're interested to have a look. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Seeds and Citrus

I put in my Fedco seed order last week. It feels nice to cross something off the list.

In case you might wonder how I pick out which seeds I will purchase this year out of the thousands of varieties that Fedco offers, this is my process:
1) Leaf through the Fedco catalog while watching television and circle or star anything that looks interesting - this is the longest part because I like to read ALL the descriptions, even of plants I know I will never grow in my garden.
2) Look through my box of seed packets from past years, and identify which seeds of staple plants I still have and jot down which I need to order.
3) Go back through the Fedco catalog and put together a list of the varieties of staple plants as well as a short list of new plants I'd like to try.
4) Cull my list by half.
5) Cull my list again until it's down to one column on the Fedco order sheet.

Note that 4 and 5 are repetitions of each other - with a small garden, it takes time to whittle down the list to something that is manageable. If you are buying a whole set of new seeds or have a larger garden, your order may likely be larger. Having a small and diverse garden means that I only plant a small number of seeds out of most packets each year - so a packet of tomato seeds lasts me several years. Two notable exceptions to this rule are lettuce and cucumbers - we plant lettuce rather densely and in multiple successions, and it seems that we have to re-plant our cucumbers a few times each year due to bad weather or pests.

January's Can It Up Challenge was to make something featuring citrus as the star ingredient. I figured this would be a good time to try something new - and then I thought about it for a while -- I've really never canned anything featuring citrus as the star ingredient. Just think, I've been canning for most of my life, and haven't done a marmalade, a citrus jelly or a citrus curd. Oh, how limited I have been.

So, I tried out a Meyer lemon curd - it was excellent with one exception. Quick to prepare, quick to cook, tastes fantastic, but somewhat long to clean up. You have to strain the curd through a fine mesh sieve to take out the lemon zest and any cooked egg - the recipe doesn't tell you that the lemon zest then gets severely stuck to the fine mesh. In case you are interested, the recipe is over at Food In Jars.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Freezer Space

It was an especially busy summer in 2012, which meant that I didn't have as much free time to spend in the garden or in the kitchen as I would have expected. My canning larder is still somewhat stocked, but instead of canning quarts and quarts of peaches, I put a lot in the freezer. They fit nicely into gallon-sized bags and I created quite a stack in our small chest freezer.

Fast-forward a few months and we have also frozen blueberries, wild mushrooms, duck breasts and ready-to-eat foods like meatballs and crab cakes. the freezer is packed to the gills. it is a good thing, but the point of freezing food is to save it for eating, not for indefinite storage.

So for this month's Can It Up challenge, I looked to those peaches from New Hampshire in the freezer to make some peach compote flavored with maple syrup from Vermont and maple whiskey from Canada.

I let a gallon bag of peaches defrost in a saucepan. As they defrost, they release a lot of liquid, which means that I didn't need to add any water. I ended up with 7 cups of peaches and then added a half-cup of maple syrup. I brought the whole concoction to a low boil and then watched until the smallest peaches started to break apart but the larger pieces were still intact. Then I took it off the heat and added about a quarter of a cup of the maple whiskey. I used the Sortilege brand of maple whiskey because our friends who live in Quebec had gifted us a bottle, but Cabin Fever is a similar product that is sold in the US.

Poured into pint jars, I processed three jars for 25 minutes, plus had a scant cup leftover for tasting. This is when I realized I should have doubled the alcohol, as the fruit really soaked up the whiskey flavor. I think a half cup or even slightly more would have been a better proportion. I was happy with the half-cup of maple syrup as it wasn't overly sweet.

Another fun, easy canning project - perfect for the holiday season.
Happy New Year 2013!
Here's to enjoying the food in our freezers and pantries with people we love.