Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Life in a Dormant Domain

Check out this great feature on effective winter bird feeding that was recently featured on NPR's "All Things Considered".  Their visits can bring much needed color and joy to the garden at this time of year.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Success Can be Grown in a Garden Patch

Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked, "To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a little bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.  This is the true meaning of success."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pallet Compost Bin

The average American family throws away a couple hundred pounds of compostable waste in a year's time.  Unfortunately, these items do not break down easily in landfill conditions, adding to the staggering amount of waste we produce and depriving our gardens of wonderful, soil-enriching nutrients.

For those of us with backyards, a simple solution is to compost.  And for those of us with backyards and on a budget, an affordable solution is a compost bin built from shipping pallets.  There are many online resources which will guide you through these steps; here is a pretty decent one:

These pallets are given away for free at just about any large retailer.  If you have a large family, or create a lot of vegetable waste, I suggest you search out the larger-sized pallets.  Be sure to select pallets that are not cracked or missing boards.

There is a seemingly infinite amount of information about composting techniques out there on the web and at your library, so I only want to add a few tidbits of advice about this project.  The three bin system is ideal so that you can have a couple bins in the midst of the composting process while you fill the third.  You may also want to consider installing heavy-duty hinges on the front "doors" of each so you can have easy access to turn and eventually remove your compost.  As you fill the bins, keep larger items against the slats and smaller (or smellier) items in the center.

This is truly a win-win-win solution: keep waste out of landfills, reuse those ubiquitous shipping pallets, and help your garden grow.  Happy composting!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Extra Crispy

Gardens can be a source of despair at this time of year.  The lush green explosion of only a month ago has given way to bedraggled gasping.  Here in Poolesville, we have not only been enduring unusually hot and dry conditions, but also a powerful storm over the weekend.  Wind speeds of 60 miles per hour made a mess of already limping yards and gardens.  Masses of broken limbs and buffeted leaves littering lawns provided the perfect encouragement to clean up the garden.  Late July is a perfect time to tidy up the garden, cutting back plants that are finished blooming or have become straggly; pulling out annuals that have outgrown their attractiveness; and filling in spots with a planting for renewed energy.  University of Maryland's Cooperative Extension service runs a program specifically for edible gardening called Grow It, Eat It; this month, their page offers some coping tips for this hot, dry weather:  Take a look around your own garden: what can you do to give it a jolt of energy?

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Hot Mess

I had oh-so-grand plans for my hot sauce bottling this year.  I planned to experiment with "canning" it so I could send it to friends and family farther afield.  I planned on making a couple different formulations, in addition to the herbal concoction from last year.

Alas, you know what has been said about the best-laid plans.  And mine have gone very far astray, unfortunately.

Mysteriously, my pepper plants have grown very little since May, whether a starter plant, a plant from seed, or even a volunteer.  With the lack of growth has also come a lack of blossom, and therein lies the problem: no bloom, no peppers.

I may have no choice but to decamp to my area Asian grocery for my hot pepper supplies, though my glow of pride may be somewhat diminished as a result.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

100 degrees of July

With the oven-like atmosphere descended upon us, along with the unbreathable air, makes me glad I finally installed my soaker hose.  I simply cannot believe (nor wish to admit) how long it spent coiled in the garage, waiting for me to use the thing.  *Note: By "I...installed  my soaker hose," I mean my dad was kind enough to do it for me.  Before the heat wave hit, I might add, lest I be accused of attempted patricide.

On another note, now may be the time to try one of the many permutations of lemonade I have been considering, such as basil and lavender.  Hmmmmm.....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Salad Days

Too hot after (miraculously) watering everything and tying the tomatoes to do much else than reflect upon a favorite quote from Baltimore filmmaker John Waters: "Iceberg lettuce is the polyester of greens."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Solstice in the Potager

Tidying things up a bit today after my vacation, I was surprised to see how tall my eggplant had gotten, along with a exuberant dill flower.  I've always had terrible luck with flea beetles completely destroying my eggplant, so I was cheered by their height.  I have a favorite recipe from Madhur Jaffrey for fried eggplant in a spicy green herb oil, as well a "napoleon" made with crispy eggplant, tomatoes, goat cheese, and basil oil.

Dismaying in their still petite stature were my basil and hot peppers.  I should be happy the basil has not succumbed to this new fungus that is apparently attacking basil here in Maryland, but it is putting a damper on my dreams of caprese salad!  The hot peppers are puzzling in their lack of height, and is worrisome for my dreams of hot sauce.  I think a call to the Cooperative Exchange may be in order!

Unfortunately, my hard drive has bit the dust, so I'm not sure when I will be including photos again, but bear with this green-thumbed Luddite, please!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sunflowers, 0. Creatures, 3.

Every year I've lived here, I've planted all sorts of sunflowers along the fence line just behind my potager.  The first year was the greatest success, and I was able to enjoy some sunnies I had rescued in the nick of time: dwarf, teddy bear, chianti.  But even then, it seemed that if the birds and squirrels didn't eat the seeds, the rabbits would graze the seedlings.  Last year, I bypassed direct sowing altogether (which is my preferred method for most things), and planted some little starters I had coaxed along.  Not one made it, even with my efforts at protecting the area with a net and then each seedling with rings of stakes.  Ironically, the potager is literally one step away yet its bounty remained untouched.  So, this year I decided I would just let nature sort it out again.  I emptied four packets of sunflower seeds and my saved seeds from my lone successful year into an empty jar, along with moonflowers and nasturtiums, mixed them with a shake, and planted them along the fence row.  I had read that rabbits detest garlic, so I planted a row of garlic, and for good measure, a row of onions in front of my seed line.  Then, for experimental purposes, I crumbled handful after handful of dried red peppers around.  I thought the combined smells would deter les lapins, without the nonsense of me driving to the store and purchasing a bag of dried blood.  So far, I am seeing the moonflowers' leaves unfurl, a profusion of nasturtium, and nothing else.  Bummer.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Meeeltiing...I'm Meeeeeltiiingggg!!

Feels like a zillion degrees with 200 % humidity outside...ah, welcome to summer in the lovely Mid-Atlantic states.  (Is it even summer yet?!)  Each course from dinner last night had a garden ingredient in it.  Don't you relish that feeling?  I grilled pork chops rubbed with olive oil, s & p, smashed garlic, and chopped oregano, thyme, and rosemary.  Nice green salad with mixed lettuces and a simple vinaigrette.  Then my dad treated us all to vanilla milkshakes made with heaps of strawberries.  Nothing better.

Here's the front edge of my potager, with the kids' garden in the background.  I love the jumble of textures and colors.

Potato flowers.  I planted red, Yukon Gold, and blue this year but I cannot remember in which order.  These are either the red or the blue potatoes.

Here's Maya's broccoli, which we will pick soon.  I love mine steamed yet crisp with a caper and browned butter sauce I found in a Nigella Lawson book.  Maya prefers hers with just some butter.  Alexander eats whatever I serve him, my biggest fan.  

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pouting Cruciferians...

...wait, is that even a word?  Here in Maryland, it feels like someone has switched the temperature setting to "August" and my brussels sprouts and broccoli are not too happy about it.  Yesterday, they didn't even bother to acknowledge my prescience, just bedraggled leaves fainting on the ground.  A mid-day shower did perk them up nicely, and did the trick today too.  Now I am waiting for the brussels sprouts to reach above the altitude of the broccoli and start looking like a funky prehistoric alien palm tree.  Even if you detest eating brussels sprouts due to a childhood trauma, they are really cool plants in the garden and add an interesting architectural note.  And give them another chance on your fork...steamed then tossed with some lemony, garlicky basil butter or balsalmic browned butter are my favorite ways to enjoy them.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monsieur Raab, tres bon

Yes, I *finally* did it...Monsieur Raab was picked, sorted (with the help of my garden assistant/daughter Maya), cooked, and consumed!  Hurrah!  I ladled linguine into bowls, topped it with some grated Romano, the cooked broccoli raab, and a garlicky, herby tomato and sausage sauce.  Very yum with slices of baguette.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Broccoli v. Broccoli Raab...

...who will triumph?  Indeed.  I plant broccoli raab each year, lured by fantasies of garlicky adventures at my stove but each year, it grows taller, and wilder, until it sprouts golden flowers and is no more.  It seems I am too distracted by other growing things until it is too late for Monsieur Raab.  First, the succulent and ephemeral asparagus, crashed by various lettuces, and clamoring strawberries.  Ah, the strawberries.  They insist upon being the center of attention, to the detriment of my neglected greens.  Just last week, I picked over five pounds, my fingers and chin ruby.  Yesterday, it was the arugula that caught my fancy: too large to be "micro" and too small to pick, I teased myself by grazing until I made myself walk away to inspect the raspberries.  Though the flowers its brambles bear are insignificant to myself, I am routinely startled by hummingbirds who do not share my opinion.  But I just am not callous enough to entirely jilt poor M. Raab...perhaps he will find his way to my kitchen tonight, courtesy of a garlicky tomato sauce and some sausage.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Anarchist potager?  I tend to let nature rule in my garden.  Volunteer plants turn up in unexpected spots.  Seedlings are seldom thinned.  Plants are clustered closely.  Enough is planted to share with the rabbits, birds, children and other wild visitors.  It began as a tidy, though sparse, heart-shaped plot with a center herb patch and four paths.  Three years have passed, and it has grown lush with exuberance.