Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Walk in the Garden

The beginning of the gardening season is a good time to go for a walk in the gardens. It’s the perennial garden beds that I’m referring to, and the beds themselves, not the pathways. This is part of an annual springtime tidy-up, and can be critical to the survival of some of the plants.

I get started by carefully raking leaves off the beds and into pathways where they will stay. Mulching paths with leaves reduces yard work in a big way by keeping them free of weeds. Wearing my new pair of beanies,* I walk through each garden bed, stepping between emerging plants, and pressing down on tunneled and hollow spots.

The roots of perennial flowers, shrubs and small trees must be in contact with soil in order for the plants to thrive, so I pay especial attention to their root zones. If you’ve planted these things you may have noticed that instructions say to pack the dirt firmly around the roots. Garden vegetables may like things loose and fluffy, but perennials do best in firmed-up soil.
The dark spot in front of my foot is a mole hole.
It is moles that are responsible for this little bit of work. These creatures live underground and scurry through the soil to find food. Apparently, they had a busy winter this year, as there are lots of tunnels and hollow spots. Two of our moles met their demise over the winter as our ever-helpful dog, Murphy stuck his face into the snow to nab them. Moles look similar to mice but they have big fat hands and a short tail. You may have noticed, too, they seem to have no eyes. But then, why would an underground denizen need eyes?

Moles are not interested in eating your plants or the roots of them- they are meat eaters. I did a bit of research and found several sites talking about earthworms being their main diet. Besides worms there is a long list of critters that moles are inclined to eat. These include things you might not want anyway, such as slugs, termites, carpenter ants, and yellow jackets. Here, we think it’s a good thing that moles like to eat earthworms. Worms are in plentiful supply as they breed in droves under the leaf mulch on our paths.

We don’t give a thought to trying to get rid of the moles. They are part of the food chain. We share the forest with hawks, barred owls, and snakes all of who might like to enjoy one for dinner.

Several times during the growing season I’ll put on my beanies and repeat the walk through the gardens. Just in case. And it’s a simple thing to do. -jmm

* L.L. Bean waterproof mocs (great for wandering in the garden!)

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Recipe for Parsnips

Now that things have warmed up a bit and the soil has begun to thaw, it’s time to pull up the parsnips. Left in the ground all winter, they are harvested as soon as they can be pulled up in spring. A reason to over-winter them in the garden is that the chill of frosty weather sweetens their flavor. Parsnips are a genuine treat in spring when most of the stored crops have run out. It’s important to get them out before the warmer weather inspires them to grow. Parsnip is a biennial, forming a seed head in the second year. As that happens, the core of the root hardens and the plant becomes inedible.

Harvesting the parsnips is one of the great joys of spring. To do this, I start at the edge of the raised bed, and holding the shovel exactly vertical, push it straight down into the soil. Then I tip the shovel to loosen the root so it can be pulled out by hand. This method  keeps the shovel from cutting into and damaging the roots.
Parsnips are in the sink for scrubbing.
This year’s crop is the best ever; the roots are straight, long and plump. AND TASTY!, I might add. Last year we planted them in a new spot with lots of soil depth and plenty of compost. This resulted in an abundant crop, so there are some for the freezer. The first step in preparing parsnips for the freezer is to throughly scrub them, then blanch for two minutes in boiling water. Following this, they are plunged into cold water for a few minutes, and then put into freezer bags.

The best and simplest way to cook parsnips is to sauté them in butter. The dash of wine is optional.

Sautéed Parsnips

Parsnips, 2 to 3 per person depending on size
2 tbsp butter
Dash of white wine

Thoroughly scrub the parsnips with a vegetable brush. Trim off the tops, and slice them in half lengthwise. Melt the butter in a pan over medium low heat. Add the parsnips and sauté for 10 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally so they cook evenly. Cook until the parsnips are fork tender, but not mushy. Add the wine in the last 2 minutes. Enjoy! -G.H.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Are You Making a To-Do List?

The idea of spring showing up has seemed like it would be some kind of a miracle. We got buried under about seven feet of snow this winter, and endured one cold snap after another, but finally the days are warming and the white stuff is gradually disintegrating.

There's still plenty of snow and I’d much prefer to be outdoors doing some work, but in lieu of having actual ground to walk on, here I am indoors planning things to do this gardening season. I’m making a list.

First thing on the list is kale. I was thinking it would be fun to make a garden border out of kale and edible flowers. The way we grow kale is to plant it once and then let it to reseed itself. This means the row stays put. Kale leaves can be picked when needed, including in winter if you can get to it through the snow. Kale usually looks fine all by itself, but I’m thinking a few flowers would both look nice and take it out of the realm of monoculture.
Snow is receding and perennial onions are there for the picking.
The next item on the list involves daffodils. They grow very well here and the clumps have gotten very thick. The bulbs are toxic so none are ever lost to our fat and sassy squirrel population. Last year I started dividing them up, but there are plenty more to do. I’d be happy to share some if you live nearby.

Item three is a new stone wall started last year. Dry stacking stone walls is a favorite thing to do, and I can’t wait to get started.

Another item on the agenda is something new to learn about. We’ve decided to raise some chickens. This is a first, a whole new adventure as neither of us has done this before. We can’t wait to get started and we’ll let you know what happens.

The annual load of organic manure from grass fed cows will be arriving as soon as the ground firms up. There will be compost piles to build. Some of the manure will need to be wheelbarrowed out to the orchard for building compost piles there.
A sign of spring- daffodils ready to bloom.
There’s some landscaping to do by the pond. Another place to make a compost pile as it's on the list for planting a willow and some native flowering plants.

Gil has already seeded the cold frames full of salad plants after the winter ones got used up, and they have started to grow. Seeds for other crops are started indoors.

Looks like it will be a busy gardening season this year. It will be great to get out there and do stuff. The more I think about it, the longer my list gets! -jmm