Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Greetings from the Garden(s)

Oh what a summer we have had – full of good things (except for a few million hungry Japanese beetles).


It is now September and the yard grass is still growing at an alarming pace, but the fields are turning brighter by the day as the wild goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) bursts into splendid clusters, growing among the higher-than-my-head turkey-footed Big Bluestem native grasses.


I've heard from more than one friend that they believe they are allergic to Goldenrod, our state flower, but I have news for them: you can't be. Goldenrod is pollinated by insects and only wind-pollinated plants can cause allergic reactions. However, lots of Ragweed (Ambrosia artemislifolia) is blooming now; the pollen explodes as we brush past the towering plants now leaning into our paths. A single ragweed plant can produce about a billion grains of pollen per season. That's a lot of Ahcoos!  

The big garden is a bit wild these days with pumpkin vines growing every which way, including up and over the fence. The prolific yellow squash has finally calmed down to a reasonable number of daily crooknecks. I pulled out the cucumber plants today, not because they were not producing, but because they were still producing and I couldn't bear to figure out what to do with the 20+ cukes that hung on the vine every time I entered the garden.


I crawled around the pumpkin vines this morning seeking lost potato plants and found a few handfuls of red potatoes that had avoided harvest before the jack-o'-lantern vines covered them up. I also pulled up two big turnips that I planted mid-summer, leaving a dozen more to fatten up.

In not-so-good news, my tomato plants were pathetic this year, looking all straggly and producing the saddest tomatoes ever. My neighbor, Jon, tells me I need to add lime to the soil. I'll either do that for next season or give up and get my tomatoes from him – as his are amazing.

Onion and shallot harvest
Delicata winter squash

Besides the pumpkins and some newly planted radishes and lettuces, the garden is about to transition into a quieter phase. Only the sweet potatoes remain to be harvested and I won't do that for another month or so.

sweet potato vines

Let's talk about zinnias. Mine are crazy. I had harvested seed from last-year's flowers and scattered them thickly in front of my garden gate and in one of the raised beds by the cottage. Every day I cut handfuls of the cheery flowers and every day more appear. I think of the abundant blooms as controlled chaos. I dare you not to smile when you see all the butterflies and bees flitting from bloom to bloom.


The second raised bed has been replanted in strawberry plants, which did not produce berries this summer as I plucked the white flowers as they appeared, allowing the plants to grow bigger and to hopefully produce lots of berries next May. I'll need to spread straw between the plants next month, tucking them in for the long winter.

My bee garden continues to fill in and is fulfilling its purpose of attracting lots of bees and butterflies. Maggie sent her beehive, crafted by her father-in-law, back to me and it has found a new home amongst the native plants. Margaret Shea of Dropseed Native Plant Nursery came by last month to consider how I could move some of the plants this fall to create space for a stone path into the bee garden. She also had ideas for expanding our yellow garden at the back of the yard and adding to our woodland gardens.



My herb garden, just off the back porch, provides me with daily entertainment. I harvest herbs and use them fresh or dry them – turning them into teas, seasonings for olive oil, and winter-use herbs.

My very own tea blend: mint, chamomile, lemon balm, and rose

The pineapple sage has just started to send out red blossoms that the hummingbirds are loving.



In other (non-gardening) news...

Ed and I are going to be grandparents and we are just beside ourselves. Maggie and Nate are expecting a baby girl in early November. I am already dreaming of all the things I want her to experience here at Farm Dover. I'm sure she will be a great helper in the gardens.



Jack is home from Berlin for a visit. Much to our delight, his lovely girlfriend, Kasia, came with him. She leaves tomorrow from Chicago to fly back to Berlin to start fall classes; Jack will be here for another two weeks –  I have a chore list for him a mile long.

Jack and Kasia making perogie
Mary and Brian are the proud owners of a retired greyhound dog, who hasn't quite figure out how to go up and down stairs (and they live in a 4th-floor walk-up loft in Brooklyn). Saltie is learning about stairs, but in the meantime, I think Brian is carrying her up and down four flights.


Ed and I have a couple of short trips planned for this fall. We want to be close by when Baby Pinney makes her appearance.


All in all, life is very good. And I am grateful.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Catch a falling star

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket; Never let it fade away,
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket; Save it for a rainy day.

                                                                         – lyrics by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss


The decade of my 40's is but a blur. I'm not sure where the time went, but it went fast – seemingly as fast as a streaking star. There are, of course, lots of moments that I can recall and treasure. One of those moments happened nearly 20 years ago, on a night much like tonight... 

I wrote about it here on this blog six years ago, but wanted to share it with you again, in the hope that it might inspire you to look up tonight (or tomorrow) and see one of the greatest shows above earth. 

_____________

August 2000

"Attention! Important!" the outside of the folded sheet scotch-taped to the kitchen entrance door proclaimed.

Inside: "Mamma, meteor shower tonight. Wake me up. Your loving daughter, Mary"

Oh that Mary. It's so late and I'm so tired. And a nine-year-old needs her sleep more than she needs to get up in the middle of the night to see (or not see) a few shooting stars.

"Attention! Important!" the note on the second step of the stairway proclaimed.

Inside: "I'm serious. Wake me up. Meteor shower tonight."

She'll thank me in the morning for letting her sleep. Too many trees around the house and too close to the city lights to see any stars falling from the sky.

"Attention! Important!" the note in my bathroom sink read.

Inside: "Mamma, wake me up. I mean it. Big meteor shower tonight."

That Mary. Such a headstrong child. 

"Attention! Important!" the note on my pillow read. This one decorated with stars and a moon.

Inside: Mamma, meteor shower tonight. Wake me up. P.S. I love you."

Just let me slide into bed and fall off to sleep. I'm so exhausted... 

2:00 a.m.: wide awake. I tiptoe down the hall and into Mary's room. I wake her. Holding hands, we make our way down the dark steps, grab a blanket and slip out the door. We lay down on a chaise longue; her little long-limbed body on top of mine; my arms holding her tight.

We look up to the dark sky. And there it was. The most magnificent meteor shower ever. Ecstatic memories in the making: ones that neither Mary nor I will ever forget. Memories that we can dig up and reclaim through all the years of our lives.

_________

The Perseid meteor shower will peak late Sunday night and early Monday morning, but you can also catch a good number of meteors in the middle of the night on Saturday. There is a new moon tonight, so the skies will be particularly dark, perfect for viewing the heavens.  

Before I go to bed tonight, I'm planning to take a blanket and pillow out into our back yard in the hopes that I'll awake in the night and feel my way out into the dark where I can lay down and look up at the skies and remember that night so long ago. I only wish Mary was here to catch a falling star with me.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Home is where you park it

If you read this blog you know that Ed and I travel. A lot. We haven’t always. When the kids were young and our careers were vibrant, we rarely had the time or resources (or energy) to take off on adventures.

But the kids are long grown; our work careers are a thing of the past; and so we travel.



We are just back from an adventure to Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific coast. I must have been absent the day in 4th grade when we studied the great state of Oregon as I had no idea what a wonderful part of the world it is.



Other than a hotel stay in Portland on the front and back ends, we experienced the trip from a camper van. You heard me right. We travelled the coast from Astoria to the redwoods of northern California in a VW Eurovan. We rented it through Road Trip Oregon and it came fully equipped with all we needed (except groceries) for a 9-day trip. The van was small enough to make the driving/parking easy, but large enough to serve as a comfortable home away from home.




Our van featured a pop-up top, giving enough headspace even for Ed to stand and move around. Once the queen-sized mattress was unfurled each night, the “moving around” space was limited to just enough space to step into the van and crawl into the remarkably comfortable bed.

I’m not suggesting that everyone would appreciate traveling in this style, but it worked for us. We are campers from way back and this was basically like camping, but without the nightly hassle of setting up a tent. (And if it rains — which it didn’t — you stay dry.) Ed made coffee every morning in a French press with water heated on a 2-burner propane stove and I cooked a simple dinner every night over a fire in the campsite pit. We either picnicked for lunch or stopped in small towns along the way for fish and chips. Every day or two, we would pull into a new tent campsite, reserved ahead of time, at a state or national park.


We were in no hurry the entire trip, which meant we stopped often to explore a lighthouse or cheese factory, take in a scenic view, inspect a tide pool at low tide, hike a forest trail, or pick wild marionberries.

I’ll leave you with some photos — that don’t do justice to the beauty of the place or the scale of the mountains and redwoods. You may just have to go see for yourself. Perhaps in a camper van?


————
Highlights

Portland: all-around great town, with outstanding restaurants. Dinners at Apizza Scholl, Jacqueline, and Serratto. Lunches at Maurice and Jake’s Grill. We stayed at Hotel Lucia. The best part was catching up with Ed's nephew Stephen Todd and Sarah. The next best part was browsing the thousands of books at Powell's City of Books (and buying a stack of them). 



Campsites
Cape Lookout State Park, Tillamook, OR
Cape Pepetua, Suislaw National Forest, OR
Harris Beach State Park, Brookings, OR
Elk Prairie Campground, Redwood National Forest, CA
Nottingham Campground, Mt. Hood National Forest, OR

Friday, July 20, 2018

Discombobulated

Confession: the weather this summer has me baffled, befuddled, bewildered, and discombobulated. Day after day of steamy weather has confounded my schedule and required multiple showers. Of the last 20 days, 19 have boasted temperatures of 89+, with "feels like" temperatures hovering near 100. What's a farm-her to do? 

Well, for one thing, I get up and out early. I try to rise by 6:30, down a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal, throw on a long-sleeved t-shirt, my summer-weight overalls, socks, boots and my straw hat and head out to the garden. It's a bit of a race to beat the wicked hotness that is already brewing.

I take a quick tour through the big garden, harvesting squash and zucchini that have magically multiplied overnight. I step around the giant pumpkin leaves whose vines race forward at an alarming pace, threatening to take over the entire garden. I fill my basket with hot banana peppers and tiny new potatoes; add a shallot or two; pinch the tops off sweet basil and breathe in its anise-like aroma; tie up a tomato plant; harvest a handful of yellow beans, stoop to pull up only the most obvious (and obnoxious) weeds; and then keep going.



Next, I check out the bee garden to see what's bloomed since yesterday. Today it was the beginnings of Ironweed's (Veronia gigantea) brilliant crimson blooms towering above my head. Yesterday, tiny white Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) flowers began to burst open. And tomorrow, I'm placing my bet on the billowing pink inflorescences of Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum). Even at this early hour, bumble bees and butterflies are seeking nectar, hardly staying still long enough for me to capture their forays from flower to flower.


And then, because I know not to delay any longer, I hoist the dreaded weed-wacker down from its perch in the garage, fill it with gas, check the line and head out to weed whip. Ed mows; I whip weeds. Because the dang thing is just too heavy for me to manage for long periods, I tackle just one wooded path, or the ditch and fence at the front entrance, or the orchard/gardens/beehives, or the backyard trees. About the time I finish making the rounds, it is time to start all over. On the days I skip weed whipping, I head to the upper field to pick blackberries or to cut armloads of Coneflowers, Black-eyed Susans, Chicory and Queen Anne's Lace from the fields.


By late morning, I'm beat and ready to come inside for lunch and shower #1. Then perhaps a nap or time in the kitchen to preserve the contents of our harvest; an effort to nourish our souls when the temperatures fall and the nights grow long: blackberry jam, milkweed cordial, herbal teas, roasted tomatoes, pepper butter...


Late-afternoon Ed and I head out to get the mail, walking the 1/2-mile drive and pulling johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) up by its rhysomed roots or the ever-invasive Lespedeza cuneata as we move down the gravel road. We stop every few feet to check on one of the hundreds of trees we have planted over the past 8 years. Does it have a cage around it? Are the weeds trying to overtake it? Does it need some fertilizer or mulch? Does it need watering? We make adjustments and then we move on.

We take the back paths home, cutting through the walnut field, taking the time to prune one or two of the 100 walnut trees planted in a grid or weed around the bases of a row or two. By the time we get back, it's time for shower #2.

It doesn't really cool down in the early evenings like you would think it might. Often, we go out after dinner to putter around the herb garden, raised beds, big garden and bee garden, counting the number of bunnies that pop out of the gardens when we enter them. Then, shower #3. Go to sleep and start all over in the morning.


If this sounds like I'm complaining, I'm not. Yes, I wish our local weatherperson would declare a high of 75 degrees and that every seven days we would get 1.5 inches of rain, but I don't think Mother Nature will grant me those wishes on a consistent basis. I love this life we have created here at Farm Dover. Every day – no matter how hot – offers up new delights/new challenges. I actually think it is good for my brain to get discombobulated from time to time...







Sunday, June 17, 2018

Mamma Nature Scatters Her Gifts

With every season here at Farm Dover, my understanding of Mother Nature's gifts expands; and my heart swells with gratitude for her generosity. She scatters her gifts along our paths, creeks and meadows, challenging me to pay close attention to her offerings and to take only what is needed. Ed calls my foraging "free food" but I know that in exchange, we must be good stewards of all she offers.

Here's a look at what I've been foraging in the past few weeks...

This spring saw the beginnings of our slow, but steady, progress towards encouraging ramps to root along our creek bank. These wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) grow very slowly, taking up to four years to flower and reproduce. They make their appearance in early spring and we are careful to harvest only a few leaves at a time, leaving the bulbs to spread. We have tried (only somewhat successfully) planting ramp seeds and ramp sprouts, hoping to start other colonies along the creek's banks. Cooked into an omelet, or scattered in a risotto, they lend a pungent garlic taste that screams springtime.


On the opposite end of the scale of ease of grow-ability is burdock (Arctium lapa), which flourishes under the maple grove at the end of our driveway. It's the plant that bears burs; you know, the ones that stick to your pants and don't want to let go. In years past, we have harvested and roasted its root, which can be quite difficult to dig. This year we harvested stems, which I boiled and then baked in a bread-crumb covered casserole. They taste a bit like artichokes and will definitely be making a repeat appearance at our dinner table next spring.



Next up was the tender leaves of the tops of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), which I boiled (twice) and turned into poke salat, an early spring green (especially good when I add a bit of bacon grease to the skillet).



Last week, I harvested 75 elderflower (Sambucus nigra) blossoms to make elderflower cordial, which is basically a floral lemonade concentrate that I bottle and freeze to enjoy all year round.


Just last week I harvested the green blossoms from common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which I turned into a pretty green soup. Don't worry about my depleting this favorite food for Monarchs; we have hundreds and hundreds of milkweed plants growing in our fields. I took only one or two green blossoms from a dozen or so plants.



My latest foraging venture entails getting up early before the sun heats the day up and heading out to pick wild black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis). These are different from the millions of wild blackberries that grow along our paths and in large patches in our fields. These berries grow on thin arching canes that bend back toward the ground, rerooting where they settle. The thimble-shaped berries are ready to harvest only when the berries turn a dark purplish black, usually two or three weeks before the blackberries are ready to pick. The berries are sweet and tart – tasting slightly different from the domestic raspberries that grow in my garden – but I like them just as much. I took a quart to Maggie today and hope to pick enough in the next couple of days to make jam -- assuming I don't eat them as fast as I can pick them.


While out picking wild raspberries this morning, I noticed that the chicory flowers (Cichorium intybus) are starting to bloom. They bloom only in the mornings; by lunchtime they have closed up. We have been known to make chicory coffee from their roasted roots. I've got chicory on my list for next week.


I consider foraging to be the ultimate in seasonal, local, sustainable and healthy eating. Most of these plants can be collected only for a brief time. If I don't stay open-eyed to what is before me, I can miss the gifts that Mamma Nature is showering upon us. And what a shame that would be!