Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tearing Apart an Oasis

Its been way too muggy lately but not necessarily hot, at least compared to other parts of this country. It cannot be fun to deal with a hundred plus degrees everyday, so our eighties cannot be considered hot in comparison. But, even so, it is still grossly humid. And the humidity makes me feel less than inspired to work on pasture and woodland projects. So, not wanting to go far, I'm looking at the yard just out the door (did they call it the dooryard once?).
And just to the side of the stone courtyard, (the courtyard consists of stones set into the ground taking the place of lawn), is what I call an oasis. There are other such areas here, and this one is planted in trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers. It harbors an abundance of life including a bird’s nest and our resident snake. And it seems to have become seriously overgrown. You probably know that it's hard to visualize what kind of growth will take place when you first put the much smaller plants into the ground.

The oasis from the driveway
The over-abundance of this oasis is grabbing my interest even though in the humidity a kind of muggy lethargy seems to have set into my bones. I decide to shake it off, and off I go to gather some tools. Even though a machete might do the job better, I opt for loppers and shovel and my trusty four-pronged cultivator. I feel my energy returning. 

The oasis from the other direction
Pretty much the only way to go at a project like this (yes, I’ve done it before) is to start at an edge and work your way in. Now that might sound obvious but the oasis has some real density going on and there is no way to get at the middle of it before paying attention to the edges.

The Apothecary rose has gone in all directions via runners and is peeking out at the sides. It seems like a good place to begin. A combination of hacking at the ground with the shovel, pulling hard on runners with the cultivator, and lopping incites a great deal of sweat. I ignore the sweat. Yanking up the rose runners also helps to extract some extraneous vinca and seeding bellflowers. Way into the whole process of it, and drenched in sweat (still trying to ignore it) I trim back the sprawling peony, dig out an oak tree, move some bergenia and bearded iris to better places, and drastically pare back the weigela and the bayberries.

And take out the invasive honeysuckle which has been on the agenda to be exchanged with a native variety. The hummingbirds loved the flowers, but they will have to make do with different flowers for now.

Voila! What a difference!
Left behind are two oaks, two arborvitae, bayberry, day lilies, bergenia, heather, the peony, the original apothecary rose, the trimmed weigela, hens and chickens, some lilies, vinca and plenty of seeds from the bellflowers. And a large pile of landfill material not to mention the usual stack of extracted stones.

The pile to the left is the stuff removed. 
Well, sweaty satisfaction. Now that the excess is removed I see that there are some big rocks in there. Wow! I had not remembered those. It will be fun to see it all grow back again. I'm looking forward to another sweaty day next summer. -jmm

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Recycle, Re-Use, and Reduce: Doing our Part for the Environment

We recently posted an article about our town transfer station. We are fortunate to have an active recycling center that is a huge benfit to the community. 
This article is about some of our own practices. We have been reducing our use of energy and plastics, finding new uses for things we no longer use, and recycling everything we possibly can. Here are some of the ways. 
Reducing energy usage
Our most significant reduction in energy usage is the car. Needing a new one a few years ago we bought a Prius even though it's price was a bit more than other economy cars. Our gas usage is now a third of what it used to be- a big savings especially with the price of gas having gone up. In summer our gas mileage is 60-62 miles per gallon, and in winter it is around 50. Getting this kind of mileage does require making slight changes in driving habits. There are techniques to driving a battery car that we have also applied to driving the pick-up truck to save gas with that also. We've even figured out how to get it to climb our hiilside driveway on the battery- using no gas at all.
Another big drain on energy is the now-old-fashioned incandescent light bulb. Compare 26 watts to get 100 watts-worth of light. Marsha prefers the compact florescents for doing needlework and installed them throughout the house when it was built 11 years ago. That’s nearly a 75-per cent savings on lighting.
How, if, and when we use household appliances has been thoroughly scrutinized. Among other appliances, the clothes dryer is an energy monster. So, we use the solar dryer as much as possible (that's a clothesline if you haven't guessed). This eliminates bleaching since the sun does the work of disinfecting. If you want your clothes to come out fluffy, dry them in a light breeze. There is no substitute for the fresh scent of air-dried clothes, towels, and sheets. 
Plugging our electronics into surge protectors with on/off switches is another, altho smaller way (hey, it all adds up) to save on the electric bill. TV, DVD player, stereo, and computers are all completely turned off when not being used. If you see little lights glowing they are not off, and are still using electricity. Even the cell phone charger uses phantom electricity and is unplugged when the phone is not charging. 
Kitchen appliances that have a non-electric alternative have been ousted. Out went the food processor in favor of a chef's knife. It's amazing what a simple knife can do- from mincing to chopping to slicing in the same time it takes to haul out and set up an appliance. It takes less space to store a knife and is much easier to clean.
Out went the electric pasta maker in favor of a hand crank machine that makes wonderful raviolis, noodles and spaghetti. There is real satisfaction in creating something by hand instead of letting a machine do it for you. And again, there is little if any time savings with the electric alternative.  
There is a list of appliances that we don’t have and don’t need: electric can opener, electric knife, juicer, bread machine, yoghurt maker, waffle iron, etc. We don't miss 'em.
Practicing plastic, can and paper avoidance
We eat virtually no processed food and use very few things that come in plastic or cans. Even buying organic foods from far away places requires fuel to get them here. As much as possible we subscribe to the hundred mile diet, eating food grown in our own garden or bought from local sources. Grass fed beef, raw milk and raw milk butter come from a local organic farmer. Eggs are bought locally. We've started a new tradition of going up the road to a u-pick for strawberries (click here for the whole story on that)
We use cloth napkins when we have dinner guests, and grab a kitchen towel for the purpose when it's just us. No need to buy the plastic wrapped paper variety. We have no paper towel dispenser since there is no roll of paper towels to put into it. Anything we could use a paper towel for can be done with a rag, cotton towel, or a sponge. We like trees of the alive-and-growing variety, so it makes more sense to us to use a quicker growing resource like cotton. 
Before we ditched the automatic coffee maker we used permanent filters that could be washed instead of the paper ones. Now we brew coffee the old fashioned way on the stove in an enamel pot. (You just cannot make “cowboy coffee” in a drip pot). 
Our vacuum cleaner does not use throw-away bags to collect the dust. It has a removeable canister that we empty into the garden where the dust becomes mulch.
Our favorite local restaurant, Krista's up the road in Cornish, uses compostable pressed-paper containers for take out or left overs. A little research found that these containers were first made a few towns over in Westbrook, Maine. If your favorite restaurant doesn't do so, ask them to use compostable packaging. Why put good food into styrofoam? 
It's a little bit of a challenge to replace plastics with other forms of food storage. We've gotten rid of plastic storage containers by re-purposing glass jars. For freezing we bought a selection of glass containers that have plastic lids. These are great because we can bake with them also.  Zip lock bags however, still have us in a quandary. 
Getting the most out of food and fabric and other stuff
Composting fruit and vegetable scraps from outside organic sources brings new energy into the garden. Composting scraps from our own harvests completes a circle- from seed to plant to food with scraps going back into the earth as food for new seeds. Composting is essential to organic gardening because of this cycle of events. And it makes the yard and garden faeries happy. And the gnomes, too. 
Stalks from broccoli and cauliflower, ends of onions, and trimmings from many veggies are collected in the freezer (make this appliance pay for itself!) until there are enough to cook into a really hearty soup stock. Same thing goes for meat bones, but we don’t compost the bones- this would attract every wild predator for miles around.
It makes good cents to us to buy clothing made of natural fibers. Old towels, sheets, tee shirts, jeans, socks, etc. have a second life after we've worn or used the heck out of them. They are used for cleaning, washing windows, and as painting rags. And sheets make great drop cloths. Used natural fiber fabrics not needed for rags are cut up into pieces and used as mulch in the pathways of the garden.
Giving away excess garden produce and still-good clothing is a great way to move things along and we've done this many times. We call it “feng shui.” If you don't need it, someone else might. We've donated many items to the town dump's "Take it Shoppe," books to the library for their annual book sale, plants to local fundraiser plant sales, and so on. There are plenty of opportunities to be useful to the community while at the same time downsizing our stash of stuff.
Buying selectively
We don't buy what we don't need and don't go shopping if we don't need something. But when we do buy stuff, it seems that some things are way over-packaged, and we always think about where the packaging might end up. Packaging is a monster blight on the landscape. Bottle deposits in Maine do a great job of keeping our roadsides looking nice. We wish New Hampshire would do the same! 

We try to do our part to keep Mother Earth happy with our sojourn on her planet.  Please share your ways of reducing consumption, reusing materials and recycling. -G.H. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Giant Red Mustard

Giant Red Mustard is a mainstay in our garden. The scientific name of this plant is Brassica Juncea; it is related to cabbage, turnip, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, collards and brussels sprouts. We bought a packet of seeds some years ago and haven’t had to buy seeds since. Hardy and prolific, it reseeds and comes back by itself every year. It more than earns its keep since we eat it from early summer until way into fall.
It is a beautiful plant with its leaves of burgundy red and green, and could be right at home in a flower garden. Ours has taken to the edges of rows in the veggie garden. Where it seeds thickly, we thin it. The extra ones pluck out easily and are eaten or added to the compost pile.

We harvest by picking a leaf or two from each plant. The plant will grow new leaves. This is not a plant for winter storage- enjoy it fresh instead throughout the growing season. To keep the plants productive we pluck the tops off before the seeds set, allowing a few to go to seed.

Giant red mustard, true to its name has a wonderful mustardy flavor if eaten raw. Add it to green salads, potato and pasta salads. Tuck it into sandwiches and use it with hot dogs and hamburgers in place of jarred mustard. If you like, harvest the ripened seeds and grind them to make ground mustard. The leaves can be steamed or stir fried. Cooked, they are valuable as a green (vitamin C, and anti-cancer properties), although much of the mustardy flavor is lost.

Enjoy it’s raw flavor in the Red Mustard Salad with Tuna or Eggs and Ginger Aioli Dressing. -G.H.

Red Mustard Salad with Tuna or Egg and Ginger Aioli Dressing

Serves 2

This recipe melds the peppery-mustard-like flavor of Giant Red Mustard with a gingery aioli dressing. Top the salad with tuna or hard boiled eggs for a refreshing and flavorful lunch dish. Traditionally, aioli is a garlic mayonnaise. I’ve taken the liberty of making this dressing more Asian in flavor. You may be reminded of the ginger and wasabi combination that is eaten with Sushi. 
Ginger Aioli:
4 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
5 cloves of garlic, finely diced 
2 Tbsp brown rice vinegar
1 Tbsp lime juice
2 tsp honey
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup of organic mayonnaise
Place the oil in a small skillet or saucepan and place over medium heat until the oil is hot. Turn down to medium low and add the ginger and the garlic. Saute until the flavors absorb, about 3 or 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and add the vinegar, lime juice, honey and pepper. Stir until blended. Allow to cool.
Put the mayonnaise into a small bowl. Add the cooked mixture and stir until smooth. Set aside.
2 cups of Giant Red Mustard leaves, de-ribbed and thinly sliced
1 can of tuna or 2 hard boiled eggs
1/2 cup scallions or red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup chives, finely chopped
Divide the thinly sliced mustard leaves mounding half on each of two salad plates. 
If using tuna, drain the tuna and place it into a small bowl. Mix the chives and half of the aioli into the tuna.  Place half the tuna mixture onto the center of the mustard leaves on each salad plate. Drizzle the remaining aioli around the edges. Top the salad with the finely chopped scallions or red onion.
If using hard boiled eggs, slice an egg and arrange the slices around the edges of the mustard leaves for each salad. Divide the chives and sprinkle half on each salad. Drizzle the aioli over the salad. There will be extra aioli since some is designated for the tuna in the above option. Top the salad with the finely chopped scallions or red onion.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How to Subscribe to a Blog

To keep up with a blog, you can either subscribe to it, or have it come into your email. The email route may work for some of us, but if your ebox is anything like mine, there are plenty of distractions in there. Enough to keep me from taking the time to read a blog post even if it’s something I really WANT to read. So, for this reason I prefer to keep “mail” separate from “reading material.”  
There are blogs on every topic imaginable, making it fairly easy to find a few that match your own interests. Subscribing puts all of the blogs you follow onto one page. It’s like creating your own personal “magazine,” filled with articles and content of your choice. Having it all on one page makes it easy to keep up with them. 
Both Yahoo and Google offer “readers.” These are ways to set up your page of blogs. (if you have an iPad, there are Apps for reading blogs). Once you set this up, the page gives a headline plus a few lines from each new blog post. Simply click to read the entire post. The best thing about this page is that you can right away see if a blogger has released a new post. Going to your reader becomes a habit the same as checking your email or going to facebook.   
To get started, set up an account with either Yahoo or Google. If you have an email address with either of them your account is already opened.  
In Yahoo, the blog reader is the page, “My Yahoo.” If you are using Yahoo, open this page, and play around with it to see the many things you can do there. If you are using Google, either Google Reader or Google Homepage will do the trick. I use the reader, so I’ll give instructions for that. 
To subscribe to our blog, scroll down to the bottom of this page and find the words “Subscribe to: Posts (Atom).” Click on “Posts(Atom).” A new window opens showing a simplified version of the blog. Highlight the URL at the top of the page- the URL is the website address beginning with “feed://theexistentialgardener.blogspot.com...”. Go to the browser’s menus at the top of the screen and click on Edit, then on Copy. Close the page and go to My Yahoo or Google Reader.    
If you are using My Yahoo, click on “+Content” near the top of the page. A box opens- at the bottom of this box click on “Add RSS Feed”. A box opens. Click inside it, then click on your browser’s Edit, then on “Paste.” The blog’s URL will paste into the box. Click on “ADD” and the blog will show up on your My Yahoo page. 

If you are using Google Reader, click on “Add a Subscription” near the top of the page, then paste the same as for the Yahoo reader. 
That’s all there’s to it. Find other blogs that you might like to follow, and add them to your page. Make the habit of checking the page as often as you go to your email or to facebook, and you will be sure to keep up with all of your blog news.