Monday, July 26, 2010

The Strawberry Planter

I said I'd blog about the strawberry planter so here it is. Just to give a little background here, our home is in woodland with only the area around the house cleared. Like pioneers on a frontier mission, we have been pushing our way into the woods to make more space for gardens.
Some years ago a humungous dead pine with a double trunk was cut down. This baby was huge and had been leaning just slightly toward the house and could have fallen on it. So down she went. And for whatever reason or the entire lack of one, it was not taken off to some landfill. (But the loggers were good and trimmed off all the branches). 

The double trunks now covered in strawberry plants.

Having this tree down opened up some potential space for gardening, but unfortunately the whole bulky thing of it was in the way. Over several years I kept stacking heaps of brush trimmings, rose prunings, and other likeminded rubbish between the two big trunks of the monster pine. I mean why not, the trunks held the stuff in place. As things were added I’d get in there and tromp it all down. Finally it was all filled in, all the way to the top. 
Hmm, I said, NOW what to do with this? Wasn’t quite sure but it seemed like a bright idea might be to toss some dirt up onto it. So on went the dirt. And then of course, dirt means plant something, so I thought of strawberries. Why strawberries? Because they put out those little runner babies which are persistant little buggers. Those things can root themselves into some pretty tough dirt. 
And so I imagined the roots squiggling their way into the big fat trunks of that log. Gradually the log rots into dirt and the whole thing is ... what, compost? Works for me! So then I was all inspired to get this going and put in the strawberries. To further promote the idea I stacked dirt all around the outside making sloping hillsides up to the two trunks. I figured that with more dirt the log might rot faster plus get me more planting space on the hillsides.  

A strawberry rooted into the log.

There’s a lot going on with that planter now. The wood is breaking down- it's getting mushy. Mossy and fungusy things are growing on it. Strawberry runners are rooting into it as planned. Chipmunk lives somewhere inside of it (probably tunneled into all that brush that’s in there), AND it adds a funny looking hlll to the area. Not that we NEED more hills, we already have a few of those.
So that's the deal with the strawberry planter. I guess the moral of the story might be that a piece of wood in the yard can be put to use. With a little imagination.   -jmm 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Alliums

The allium family is an important part of our homegrown food supply.  These fantastic members of the vegetable family add flavor to most of our cooking. It seems that life would be bland without them. 
Three members of the allium family are part of our annual-harvest garden this year (we also have chives and perennial onions, but we’ll talk about these in another blog post): allium cepa (ordinary onions), allium tivum (garlic), and allium porrum (leeks).
We bought onion sets up at Metcalf’s in Cornish. They come in little brown paper bags for about $1.29 a bag and we got some red ones and some white ones. All of these were planted toward the end of April when it is supposed that frosts are done with here in Maine. We planted them an inch or so apart and about 1/4” below ground with the root end downwards, and then thinned them as they grew, using the pulled ones as scallions.
Recemtly the tops turned yellow and fell over, indicating harvest time.  So we pulled them up and spread them out on a home-made drying table in the shed (nothing fussy- just a sheet of pegboard supported by a couple of sawhorses).
After a few days of drying the larger onions were braided (you can see in the pic one of these bunches loosely braided), and the smalller ones put into mesh bags. Simple as can be. The smaller ones are great cooked whole in stews (and we just had a short rib stew with onions, carrots, garlic, and burgundy wine, ...yum!). Looks like we won’t give the supermarkets much onion business this year.  
Garlic (allium sativum) cloves were planted last fall- one clove turns into a bulb as it grows. Since late spring we've been using garlic scapes in many recipes. A garlic scape is the long stem shooting up from the bulb in the ground. They form an interesting curly shape and have a bulblet near the top. Trimming these tops helps the plant use its energy to increase the bulb size. 
After the onions were off the drying table, we harvested the garlic and they are drying in the shed. The bottom leaves had been yellowing which is how we knew they were about ready to harvest. The grocery store won’t be getting much of our garlic business this year. We use whole garlic cloves in our slow cook recipes. I’ll tack on a simple chicken recipe as one of our simple-cooking examples. 
Our leeks (allium porrum) are a few inches tall and it will be some time before they'll be ready to harvest. We planted leek seeds this year on Earth Day. The leeks have been thinned and we'll be adding soil around the stalks to blanch them, as this increases the white part.  Leeks will be a regular part of our diet this fall and winter. They are great in stir frys, soups, and by themselves sauted in a little butter. -G.H.

Chicken with Garlic and Basil

Serves 4
Slow cooking the chicken over low heat blends the flavors while thoroughly cooking the meat. This dish is all the better if the garlic, onion and basil are from your own garden. Cooking time is 1-1/2 hours. Serve with a large veggie salad from the garden and brown rice. 
4 organic chicken thighs with skin
1 Tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil
1 head organic garlic (whole cloves peeled)
1 med organic onion sliced thin and quartered
6 large fresh basil leaves coursely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron skillet on medium heat. Add the chicken and cover the pan, then lower the heat until it is cooking gently. After 1/2 hour turn the chicken and drain off the fat. Add garlic, onion, basil and the wine. After another 1/2 hour turn the chicken again. If the pan is dry add a little more wine. After 15 minutes turn the chicken again. Turn heat up to medium for the last 15 minutes to brown the chicken. 
Bon appetite! -G.H. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Garden successes are celebratory events. We get happy and tell friends that such and such did great this year. And we hand out the excess produce to whoever will take it. 
But when something does NOT do well, and you’ve tried everything: a new location, more compost, some manure, or whatever you think is needed, even going so far as getting the soil tested, well that’s kind of hard to take. Things reach a point when you just have to admit defeat and move on to other stuff. 
And that’s how it went with strawberries. It reached a crisis point just this year. We’ve been trying to grow strawberries for several years. In trying to find the right place for them there are now three different varieties in three separate areas. Each type in each area- unproductive. Well... there were enough last year to make one small batch of jam. But this year? Only a few to nibble on. The strawberries tasted a little too sour, many had slug damage, and they were not growing abundantly. You know that kind of abundance when plants are obviously happy and healthy? Fruitful and size-able? It just wasn’t happening for the strawberries.    
AND if that wasn’t enough, the chipmunks took to them. Those wasteful chippies! They left half eaten berries, some picked but not bit into, all of them not quite ripe, strewn everywhere! (If only we had a cat...!) 
But disapointment or not this still ends happy. It turned out to be a win win. Chippie got to keep munching on strawberries, and us? Well no problem. We went up the road to the nearest “U-Pick”, bought us a couple of picking boxes, and picked our boxes full of beautiful, bright, red, juicy and sweet strawberries. In very little time we had enough berries to put away for the winter, and had enjoyed chatting with other pickers. It was fun!
And now to reconfigure the use of garden space. Oh, we will keep at least one of the strawberry beds. Most likely the one in the dead pine planter (more on this in another blog post), but most of the space will be reclaimed for fruits that do better, or veggies, or ... whatever.    
We are proud of ourselves, partly for helping to support the local economy. But also for successfully moving on. Next year we will be back at the U-Pick- we’re saving the boxes.  -jmm 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Whole Wheat Pie Crust

Whole wheat pie crust is the only kind I make having moved beyond white flour baking many years ago. Whole wheat crust has a wonderful nutty flavor that enhances whatever filling you put into it. This crust is good for quiche-type pies, fruit pies, and even meat and veggie pies. 

If you have scraps of dough left over, roll them out, sprinkle with a little sugar, and bake on a flat pan until browned. They make great little snacks. I leave off the sugar and give some to the dog. It's no small wonder that she loves to hang out in the kitchen...!

Variations: substitutes for the butter include hardened coconut oil, or lard. A tsp of sugar can be added to the flour and salt mixture. An egg yolk can be added before the ice water. 

These fit into a 9" pie plate. 

Single Whole Wheat Pie Crust
1- 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp chilled butter 
Several tablespoons ice cold water

Double Whole Wheat Pie Crust
2-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup chilled butter
Several tablespoons ice cold water

1. Place the flour and salt in a bowl and mix with a fork.

2. Add 1/2 of the butter. Cut in using a pastry blender until about the consistency of cornmeal. Cut in the remaining butter until the size of peas. 

3. Drizzle the ice water over the dough a tablespoon at a time while tossing with a fork until the dough holds together. Form the dough into a ball for a single crust or two for a double. Roll out on a floured surface. Fill and bake according to the recipe.   -jmm