Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Winter Feast From The Garden

This unseasonably warm, rainy December weather isn’t good news for my friends that make a living with their snow plows. Hey wild Bill, sorry about that idle plow. 

But just a few days before the new year, the temperature is nearly 50 degrees. I went out to the garden without a jacket to get some salad greens from the cold frames. The mache has been growing under the protective cover of the re-purposed windows. Our salads will be garden fresh well into January.

Last night’s rain washed the rest of the snow from the kale and carrot patches. Kale is very hardy and has a sweeter taste after a frost. The carrots were going to over-winter, but with the ground thawed, I was able to harvest a bowl full of small, very tasty carrots. 

Tonight’s dinner will be almost fully from the garden. The mache and carrots from today's garden forage will be in the salad, along with a few mushrooms. The kale, steamed with a little butter will grace our plates. Chicken, from birds we raised this summer, will be on the table. A glass of wine, and voila, a feast.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Garden Season MVP's

It’s September and seasons are winding down. In baseball, it's nearly playoff time. In the garden, some of our veggies have been picked clean, while others are ripening for fall harvesting.

The veterans, both in the garden and on the diamond, have produced with their usual consistency. Swiss chard and arugula are having their typical all-star seasons. The garden’s clean-up hitter is lettuce. The four varieties we planted in succession have been part of our every dinner since spring. We’ll still have plenty to share with our local food bank as the weather cools off.

Players may have an off year from time to time. Such was this season for our onions and summer squash. We’re not ready to cut them from next year’s line-up. We’ll work with them by adding lime to the onion patch and plenty of compost to the squash hills. Hopefully they’ll be back to all star form next season. Our plum tree, usually full of purple goodness, had nothing this year. We expect it to bounce back with it's usual fruitfulness next year.

It’s time to vote for the veggie most valuable player awards. The MVP's this year are basil and tomatoes. With four varieties of basil, pesto has been the star of the dinner table. The tomatoes are having one of the best years we've seen in some time. Lots of off season effort went into getting them ready. Seeds started indoors, with heavy doses of compost and fish emulsion, has them in very tasty form.

Every year we add new players to the Organic Veggie team. Some make their way into the regular crop rotation, while others are one and done. This year we gave yellow beets a try out. They ran away with the veggie rookie of the year award. They'll definitely be in the starting garden line-up next season.

After baseball’s world series, there's winter ball, keeping the season going all year long. Our cold frames are the garden diamond for mache, spinach and other cold-hardy veggies. These mini green houses keep our garden season going long after the end of the typical season. Kale is a winter favorite, having more flavor after a hard frost. We've been known to knock the snow off the kale in winter and steam it or add it to stews and stir-frys in January. 

The veggie spring training includes parsnips, asparagus and fiddleheads, ready to eat early, while the veggie veterans are being planted to get ready for next season’s pennant drive.

Baseball is still active in the winter. Teams make trades and draft players to improve the line-up for next season. The Organic team's personnel directors will be scanning seed catalogs and talking with other gardeners to compare techniques for garden success. There isn’t really an off-season in baseball. The same can be said about our garden.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

My Favorite Things

These are a few of my favorite things. No, I’m not breaking into a punk rock rendition of the classic Julie Andrews song from The Sound Of Music with slide guitar accompaniment.  

These are a few of my favorite flavor enhancing things: garlic, oregano and basil, oh my!

I pulled up the garlic and the fragrant bulbs are laid out to dry in the shed. All except for the one that will be in tonight’s cucumber salad. 

Last year’s garlic crop had braids hanging in the cellar until January. By planting 50 percent more this year, we should have garlic until next spring.

The first batch of basil is thriving. We’ve used it our green bean casseroles. It’s been in our salads and sauces. And the pesto has been fantastic- definitely one of my favorite things. 

We planted four varieties of basil this year. The Genovese basil is especially prolific and will be the star of the pesto show. Genovese basil is the usual variety you find in stores. The large, bright, green leaves are ideal for pesto, among other culinary endeavors.

Thai basil has smaller leaves and a more pungent aroma. This is the tallest variety in our basil patch. With a plethora of pungicity, thai basil livens up a chicken and veggie stir fry. 

The purple basil is just now getting ready to harvest. Same for the lime basil. Can’t wait to see how they spice things up. I'm looking forward to sampling some purple pesto.

We also have a second batch of basil with plants around an inch high right now. They were planted closely together, so a little thinning and transplanting is in order. A perfect transplant spot is the patch the garlic came from. Can’t have too much basil. 

The oregano is a perennial that keeps us in flavor year after year. A trip to the herb garden, a stalk of oregano is cut, and the leaves end up on the cutting board. Flavor is ready to jump into the pan.

Yes, these are a few of my favorite things. Seldom does a summer day go by without garlic, basil or oregano. Well, maybe I will belt out a little Sound of Music tune. Where’s that old guitar? -G.H.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

As Summer Begins, Flowers Spring into Bloom

Maiden's Blush rose
Apothecary Rose
Alba Alba Rose
Yellow Rose of Texas
Stella D'Oro Daylily
Mock Orange
Johnny Jump Ups

What's Happening with the Permaculture Orchard

Getting an orchard started in the woods has been a challenge. This was done a tree at a time as we added only one or two fruit trees each year. For each tree, it took a grubhoe to break through the thin but impenetrable layer of forest floor. Next, a hole was dug, another slow process as roots and rocks had to be contended with. Backfill took a large amount of compost. Each tree typically loved its new place while the roots enjoyed the amended soil. And then, after the first year each one of the trees stopped growing.
Looking down the slope from the grapevines: the fruit trees blend in with all of the other foliage.
So, forest floor between the trees was broken up with a grubhoe, and roots and rocks pried out. Again, lots of compost was worked into the infertile soil. Since, composted manure has been added each year. Using some of the ideas of permaculture, a variety of plants have been put in. 
Bee Balm is looking good.
Different plants are supposed to act as dynamic accumulators, provide mulching materials, or attract beneficial insects. The variety chosen for the area includes shrubs, edible perennials, ground covers, and flowering plants. Click here for a post on the orchard in 2012.

Murphy inspects the orchard from the berm of the swale.
Several years ago I made a swale, click here to read the post. It is now a pathway and a convenient place to toss branches and twigs fallen from nearby trees. Whether it functions as a permaculture swale, retaining moisture from rain and snow melt and gradually releasing it into the soil is anybody’s guess. We can only hope that this happens because it is too far to lug water to the orchard. The trees have to make do with moisture from rain or snow melt.
The pile of rocks from making the swale is now a stone wall.
Happy to say, the orchard is looking better this year. The plants under and around the trees are growing beautifully. No longer stunted, they are now growing to their normal heights. The fruit trees have new growth and their leaves look healthier.
Red clover and catnip look healthy.
Gardening is a process. This year I'm working along the edges of the orchard to try and get some flowers started. More process there's lots of rocks in the way! 
Comfrey is tall and flowering.
It is a challenge to start fruit trees in the woods. You might think they'd be right at home where other trees grow, but that is not the case. It appears that fruit trees are as fussy as garden vegetables. It took years to get those to grow too. Maybe one of these years we will pick fruit in our orchard. We are looking forward to that! -jmm

Sunday, June 22, 2014

You Are Invited!

There are many wonderful aspects to our efforts to pursue a healthy lifestyle. There’s the physical that involves planting, weeding and harvesting a garden. Determining what to grow, ordering seeds and drawing up plans to expand the garden are mental aspects. There’s a spiritual side with meditational walks in the woods with the dog. There’s also a societal role as we share our experiences with friends, and try to set a good example. And now, there is a bit of political activism.
Murphy loves going for a walk in the woods.
Awhile ago Marsha and I were discussing the Green Party and how its message seems to get little media attention. The question arose: “What is the Green Party doing?”  I felt compelled to turn this question around into another one, “What am I doing?” The Green Party is me. Waiting for others to act is not what I want to do. I’d prefer to take responsibility and be an example in both words and deeds.

Last saturday I attended the Maine Green Independent Party State Convention. So many like-minded people to be with! Besides seeing friends from all over Maine, there were talks about clean elections, food co-ops, peace action and other topics. Green Party candidates running for state and local positions spoke about their campaigns.

At the Green Party convention I was asked if I would accept a nomination to the State Party Steering Committee. After first declining due to lack of time, I recalled our conversation about who is doing what in order to promote Green Party ideals.  I decided not to wait for someone else to take responsibility, so I agreed to run. Bottom line; I was elected.

I came home from the convention and changed into my work clothes. I planted peppers and mulched squash. I fed the chickens and took a walk in the woods with our dog, Murphy. And i thought about being active politically. I thought I’d like to start some discussion here in my own town.

So, here’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll be hosting a talk to address the question: “What Is the Maine Green Independent Party?” There is a lot of disenchantment with the two-party system, and I want people to know that a viable alternative exists. If you’re in the Limerick area on July 24th, stop by the library at 7:00 p.m. to join us.

We’ll keep making plans to do more with the  garden. Yoga and meditating will continue to be a part of my daily routine. Nature will keep providing inspiration. And there will be some political activism. It feels like a healthy way to be. -G.H.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Salad Saga, Part 1

I’ve got salad on my mind.

Is there a food that you can can eat every day and never get tired of it? For me, the answer is yes, and the food is salad. There’s lots of foods I like, but every day would be too much. Chicken, for one thing, is high on my list. But every day? It’d get old fast. I’d soon be craving beef, or fish, or lobster.

I’ve been eating a salad a day for many years. That’s three hundred sixty five salads a year; a lot of salad. It would fill a really big bowl. Imagine the size of this theoretical bowl and then go ahead and visualize it twice as big. This is because there are two us eating a salad a day. Would this much salad fill the living room from floor to ceiling? Would it fill the whole house?

So how does the garden make all of this stuff? Our own garden is where most of our salad ingredients come from. It’s not all lettuce; we harvest a variety of things for eating raw from early in spring until the last killing frost late in fall. And after that we munch on what’s in the cold frames. 
Today's salad is two kinds of lettuce, baby kale, giant red mustard, perennial onion, chives and chive blossoms.

The garden grows more salad stuff than we eat. Sometimes there is too much lettuce, for instance. If there’s too much at once and we can’t eat it all, some ends up as compost. Perennials that we use for salads are never fully harvested because plants need to keep growing so we can keep harvesting from them. Maybe the garden is growing two housefuls of stuff and we don’t even know it.  

The quantity that we need in order to have a salad every day is never apparent by simply looking at the garden. All of it is never there all at one time, and what is there never really looks like all that much. Maybe we’ve developed a knack, and arrange for it naturally. Like something that happens after sticking seeds in the ground, transplanting, trying different plants, working to make good soil, and doing this from year to year. We’re in salad nirvana. And I’m baffled. -jmm

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How It's Looking Right Now

As June has arrived, the first month of our summer growing season, I took a walk around the gardens to see how things are coming along. Hardier plants have been in the ground for over a month, and I’m getting ready to plant seeds of less hardy plants.

Lettuce seeds left over from last year were scattered in one of the cold frames in early April. The cold frame was covered on cold nights, and we now have green Simpson, Red Sails, and some Forellenschluss lettuce that is green with deep red blotches for our salads.

In the key-hole salad garden, the perennials have been productive since early spring. We’ve been using chives, perennial onions, sorrel, wild garlic, and lovage every day. Giant red mustard plants, self seeded last year, are still small, but pickable. The Wasabi arugula that sounded so alluring in the seed catalog hasn’t sprouted after a whole month. Good thing it was given only a small spot in the salad bed. Rows of lettuce, arugula and other greens planted in late April are a couple of inches high. It’s time to fill in gaps with fresh seed.

Six hills of composted soil border the salad garden, and wait to be planted with Delicata squash seeds.

The plum tree and blueberry bushes have leafed out beautifully. The plum had only a few blossoms this year, taking a rest from its prolific crop last year.

A broken wheelbarrow has a new life. It’s been filled with soil and now holds radish sprouts. They are two weeks old, and are due for thinning. The thinnings will be used in a salad.

Peas have grown to about five inches and will be needing a fence to climb. 

Garlic is over a foot tall and there are little spinach plants between the rows. 

Potatoes are looking good and will be needing some leaf mulch soon. 

Pak choi plants are about three inches tall, and were thinned last weekend. 

Three varieties of tomatoes are doing well after being started indoors.

Grape vines have been leafing out well. We are awaiting the appearance of Japanese beetles. And milky spore is in the soil awaiting them. We are hoping to see fewer of those bugs in the future.

Kale, cabbage, beet and Swiss chard seeds planted recently are sprouting. 

The raspberry bushes have expanded and are looking very green.

The onion patch has been planted with sets of red and yellow onions. The red ones are sprouting better than the yellow ones so far. 

Five horseradish roots were planted on Patriot’s Day. There is some growth on four of the five roots so far.

Next, I will plant basil, zucchini, cucumbers and winter squash.

Wandering in the garden... what a great way to spend a day as a new month begins. Things are looking good. -G.H.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Garden of Miniatures

Gardens of different types seem to be multiplying around here. There’s a veggie garden, a flower garden. a salad garden, a tea garden, a herb garden, a small orchard and numerous perennial gardens. How to keep track of them all?!
A cypress and stonecrop sedum.
When the house was built fourteen years ago, rocks unearthed as the basement was dug were lined up to form a stone wall. A bulldozer was used for this project. I never liked the bulldozed wall. A respectable-looking stone wall is not made by a bulldozer, it didn’t look natural, nor did it seem like it belonged here. So, finally, I collapsed it, prying boulders loose with a pry bar, and letting them tumble down the hillside. Smaller, movable stones were rolled over to a boundary line where I’ve started to build a dry-laid, hand-stacked stone wall.
The new rock garden- the torso is the upright stone.
What now remains of the bulldozed wall is a natural looking grouping of a few rocks nestled into the ground at varying heights. One of the rocks was entirely different from the others. It is a "ringing" rock (click here to find ringing rocks in Wikipedia). This type of rock is common here, amongst many other types. I first noticed the ringing effect while tossing rocks into piles for stone wall building. They land with a distinct ringing sound, unlike others that hit the pile with a dull thud. The Wikipedia article suggests tapping the handle of a ceramic coffee cup to hear a similar sound. Other characteristics are that they seem heavier, or denser than most other rocks, and they are a dark grey color that becomes black when the stone is wet.

The ringing rock is a long, oblong-like shape. I wanted to set it upright, partly burying it to keep it in place. This project took a week of daily shifting the rock a few inches at a time with a pry bar, being that it was way too heavy to move all at once. One final determined pry made it stand upright in the hole I’d dug. The shape of this rock seems to resemble an ancient carved stone torso that has lost its head and arms over the years. In the rain it turns black, standing out dramatically from its surroundings.

With the rocks in their new places, my next thought was to find plants to grow between them and around the "torso", but I didn’t want the plants to obscure the stones. After all of my hard work, I felt the rocks should be dominant objects in the garden. This led me to think of miniature plants. I’d never grown miniature plants. It took a little research to find what I needed. A helpful resource was a listing of plants (with photos) found here.
Mini Hostas from NH Hosta.
The miniatures garden, so far, is a small collection of plants. They are all experimental since it usually takes some time to find what grows well in a new area. Among other types, my research to find small plants brought up a variety of mini hostas. I love hostas. They are perfect for this partly shaded area, and the mini ones have a charm that I cannot resist. Today I received an order of mini’s from NH Hostas, a nursery that offers a fabulous variety of this plant. They are sweet! -jmm

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Tea Garden

What a pleasure it is, all through the growing season, to go outdoors and gather a leaf of this and a flower of that to brew into a steaming cup of herbal tea. Through winter, it’s nice to have a stash of the same herbs dried and ready to steep.

Because I had been gathering tea parts from multiple places, eventually I thought to move the herbs all into one place. After preparing a new area with dirt and compost, and lining the edges with rocks, I gathered the plants and tucked them in.
Too early to be flowering, this rose has blue-green leaves.
Already at the back of the tea garden was an Alba Alba, an antique rose that in flower is wonderfully aromatic. It’s long arching canes bow gracefully over the tea plants. It’s not out of place since its petals and hips often end up in cups of tea.

It has occurred to me that the tea garden follows some of the concepts of permaculture. One of them is that it is not monocultural. Plants that are suitable for tea may include a wide variety of types. Another idea is that of incorporating plants of varying heights, all the way from ground hugging mint to a nearby tall maple tree. And finally, the plants are types that, in flower, attract bees and other beneficial insects. Every yard needs a tea garden!

Here are some of the plants in the tea garden.

Peppermint, Mentha x piperita. Central to the garden, mint has a place in every cup of tea. It is allowed to spread through and around the other plants. A sprawling plant, its stems grow roots where they touch dirt.

German chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla. Has feathery leaves. Use the button-like flowers, which have a subtle apple-like scent, for tea.

Catnip, Nepeta cataria. Easy to grow and its bushy habit, that becomes more sprawling than bushy after the neighborhood cat finds it, results in a plentiful supply of leaves.

Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis. A lemony scented leafy plant that grows like a bushy shrub about two feet tall. Looks similar to catnip, but has slightly shiny leaves.

Bee Balm, Monarda didyma. Use both the leaves and the flowers for tea. 

Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica. Looks similar to both catnip and lemon balm, but grows taller than either. You can tell the difference by its spinier leaves. Wear gloves when picking it.

Anise hyssop, Agastache foeniculum. Has a flavor similar to licorice or anise. Grows about three feet tall, like a leafy shrub.

Red clover, trifolium pratense. Use the blossoms.

Wild strawberry, Fragaria vesca. Use the leaves.

Catnip, lemon balm, stinging nettle, bee balm and anise hyssop are of the mint family, characterized by square stems, leaves growing on opposite sides of the stems, and flower heads consisting of multitudes of tiny flowers. All of these have similar leaves and growth habits. Volatile oils in their leaves and stems are the source of their aromas and flavors.

Some of these plants have medicinal uses, and you should do a little research to find out what they are. Be careful to NOT use just any plant for tea. Pennyroyal, for instance, is a herb with a strong mint-like scent but comes with warnings of severe health problems, and even death if ingested, and the oil of this plant can be deadly even if used externally. If in doubt about a plant, google it!

To brew a cup of tea pour boiling hot water over the picked leaves or flowers. You can crumple them first to help release the oils if you like. Experiment with mixtures of plant types and with quantities. Allow to steep for about five minutes, then remove the herbs and enjoy your tea. -jmm