Thursday, March 5, 2015

Winter lingers on, but the peppers are planted.

It's March 5th, and winter still has it's chilly hand clutched tightly around my corner of Massachusetts.  Here's the driveway after I cleared away yet another five inches of snow this afternoon:

I've shoveled it myself every time, saving my back from the worst lifting by using my garden wheelbarrow to move the heavy snow at curbside. I'll be in great shape for digging the garden, if the snow ever melts.

Meanwhile, all the birds in the neighborhood come to my feeders, including a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk that caught a dove this morning. He spent two hours on the ground afterwards, eating every scrap of meat off the carcass.  He was clearly desperate for food, and I had to admire his determination to survive this long, cold, snowy winter:

I need to believe in spring, and so I started my pepper seeds last night, in a south window with a bottom heater. Peppers take so long to germinate that it's not too early, as long as spring really does come this year:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Goodbye Sol

I haven't posted to this blog in almost two months, and the reason is more than the winter doldrums that comes over every gardener in a temperate climate. I've also been finding it hard to be excited about my garden without Sol, my canine gardening companion.

Sol died on November 20th, after a three month battle with a blood disorder. It was a warm day, and he'd spent the morning sleeping in the yard, getting up now and then to follow the sun.
I'd spent the morning kayaking, but went out to rake after lunch. I was lifting a pile of debris into the wheelbarrow when I saw Sol stagger into my field of vision, dragging himself towards me with difficulty. He made it to a couple of feet away, then lay down and looked up at me with confusion in his eyes.

I picked him up and ran to the truck, and rushed to the vet, but it was to late. He died at 2pm with an oxygen mask over his face and me holding his red and white paw. It was just a couple of weeks before his 13th birthday.

I have lived with and loved 3 dogs as an adult, but I had a closer bond with Sol than the two dogs before, even though he came into my life when he was 5 years old and I'd raised them from puppies.
All three dogs were Basenji's, a sighthound breed my husband Tom grew up with. They are neat, tidy dogs with strong personalities and no bark.

Sol was a retired show dog. He spent  his first five years at the breeder's kennel and on the road to shows. He had a gentle, polite manner with strangers, and a silly goofy streak with his friends. And he loved our yard and garden.

He wasn't so sure at first. I took a week off work to hang out with him and get him settled, and the first few days he was uncomfortable when I let him out into the yard - he'd circle the fence line nervously, looking for a way out, back to the kennel and the world he understood.  I stayed in the yard with him, speaking gently when he seemed most upset, and giving him treats, trying to convince him that he was in a good place.

He finally jumped the fence late in the week, right in front of me. I ran to my truck and drove after him, wondering if I'd ever see him again. I found him trotting down a nearby road. I pulled the truck alongside and opened the door. We'd been on many drives that week, and he loved the cozy truck cab.  "Truck" I yelled in desperation-- the command I'd been teaching him for jumping up onto the seat. He stopped, gave me a considering look, and jumped in. I shut the door quickly and hugged him in relief. He had made his choice.

Now I have to adjust to a season in the garden without Sol, without his joyful zooming across the lawn, his grimacing enjoyment of a nice spicy radish, his relentless battle with the woodchucks. It will be hard, and there will be many sad moments when I pause and remember.
But spring will arrive and the garden will come to life, and I will still love to be out in the growing, green world. And I'm open to bringing another dog into my life and garden. The squirrels are getting mighty cocky, and need chasing...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Roasted winter vegetables featuring Cape white turnip

I've lived in Southeastern Massachusetts for 22 years, and I married a man who has lived here his whole life. One of the local treats we both love is the Cape white turnip, a rutabaga sized sweet white turnip that has such a devoted following that they actually have a festival celebrating it in Eastham Massachusetts!
These turnips need much love, and lots of space and time to grow. I don't have room for them in my kitchen garden, but they are available every fall at Four Town Farm in Seekonk, after the first frosts make them sweet.
Here are the ingredients for my roast vegetables- my Delicata squash, onions, garlic, sunchokes and rosemary, as well as a big white turnip from Four Town:

Roasted  with olive oil and salt and pepper in an over that starts at 425 and ends at 475 degrees for about 45 minutes (with several stirrings to get both sides of the turnips brown) they come out like this:

Now that's a plate of vegetables worth lingering over:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Winter squash harvest -- the year of Delicata!

Winter squash are by far the most unpredictable harvest in my kitchen garden. Even though I plant  the same number of Delicata and Butternut squash seedlings each year, in comparable settings and with equally enriched soil, one variety always produces much better than the other. Last year I had only a couple of Delicata fruits, but 8 big Butternuts. 
This fall I harvested 9 Delicata fruits from my one surviving vine-- way more than the average 4 or 5, and just 4 Butternuts from 2 vines. I also tried to grow Acorn and Spaghetti, with little success. Each plant produced just one fruit before succumbing to fungus. 
I'm happy overall, because Delicata squash is a more versatile ingredient. It does not have to be peeled, and it's subtle flavor can be used in many recipes. Butternut is a better keeper, so I'll save it for holiday cooking. 
Here's a picture of the squash harvest, as well as some tomatoes I just brought in to ripen. The tomato plants are still blight-free and we have not had a frost yet, though temps have been as low as 40 degrees.  Our recent spate of rainy days has led to cracks on the tops of some of the fruit, but the rain has been very welcome.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

My #5 annual flower for the kitchen garden --Nasturtium

This choice was easy-- the common garden nasturtium is easy to grow, colorful and edible.
But while researching the history of nasturtiums I did learn an interesting fact. The common name nasturtium comes from the resemblance between the peppery flavor of the leaves of this tropical annual and several kinds of European kitchen garden greens in the cress genus, Nasturtium. Like so many other plants discovered by European explorers it was given a common name based on a feature that reminded the explorer of home --in this case  high tea with cress sandwiches!
The Latin name of the flower know as nasturtium is Tropaelum majus. I've grown them for more than twenty years, in colors from peach through deep red, with foliage with dark tones and variegation, and plant forms from compact to trailing. They germinate easily and early, and grow fast, providing bright flowes and edible foliage by July, continuing through frost. A quick chop back of worn foliage in midsummer can also result in fresh fall growth.
But naturtiums do have needs, and they like to be well fed and well watered. This fall we've had drought and my late nasturtiums have sufferred.
Here are some pics from last fall, when the self-sown nasturtiums of October were exceptional:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My #4 annual flower for the kitchen garden -- Moonflower

September is a ragged month in the kitchen garden, with most flowers and vegetables past their peak and on the decline. But the mooonflower (Ipomoea alba) is an exception. In September the dark green foliage is unmarked by disease or pests, and multiple white blooms uncurl nightly, releasing their sweet fragrance into the cooling early autumn air.

Like all member of the Ipomoea family, all parts of the plant are poisonous, which accounts for the unchewed leaves. Moonflowers take a long time to bloom from seed, but during the three months of growth that precede flowering the leaves weave their way through my inexpensive wire garden fence and turn it into a solid wall of green. 
Moonflower is not a self seeder here in Massachusetts, since frost usually hits the plants before the seeds are mature, though about one year out of five I am able to collect  a few seeds from the earliest blooms. And in order to be sure of September bloom Moonflower should be started indoors, about 
the same time as tomatoes, which means late March for me.  In fact,  I treat my Mooonflower seedlings just like my tomatoes -- I start, harden off and transplant them into the garden at the same time.
It's a little bit of work compared to some of the prolific self sowers I have already picked for my top five,  but once you've stepped into a September garden full of Moonflowers in bloom, you'll understand why this flower makes the list.

Friday, September 12, 2014

My top five annual flowers - #3, Verbena bonariensis

Yes, the name is a mouthful, but this is a great little plant.  This tough species of Verbena is such a reliable self-seeder that you you plant one Verbena bonariensis, you may never have to plant another. It also winters over given just a bit of shelter from cold hard winds.
And yet it  never seems invasive, because the neat early rosettes of foliage can be easily pulled from places you don't want this willowy, purple flowered butterfly magnet to grow.... though I 'm not sure where you would not want it!
Here's a big patch of bonariensis I let fill in after I pulled my garlic plants in July. The foliage is still clean and green and new flower shoots are sent up every day:

In other parts of the garden I have left just one plant, and I really enjoy the effect of the tall flowers coming up through the vegetable plants, in this case a trellis of Rattlesnake pole beans.

Verbena bonariensis has several characteristics that keep it from being the perfect kitchen garden annual; it is not fragrant nor edible, and as a cut flower tends to shed a lot.
Bur right now, when so many other garden flowers are tired and ragged, the Verbena stands tall and bright.