Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tea Time

It has been almost a week since I last posted. My ground is frozen solid, no more seed catalogs have come to my doorstep and I have a cold. Not the best of times. At least I'm still enjoying the fruits of my labor this summer. Since I have a cold, I've been drinking a lot of tea.

During the day it is green tea, but at night my homegrown variety comes out. If you remember way back, I put in a tea garden this year. I had three kinds of mint, lemon balm, and chamomile. I didn't use them much in the summer as I hate iced tea, but now is perfect.

My lemon balm didn't dry well. The lemon smell disappeared totally. It smelled like parsely when I opened it up. Ick. I don't want parsley tea. I want lemon flavored tea. So I tossed that. I might resort to my lemon thyme at some point since that one dried quite fragrantly.

The chamomile went bonkers this summer. I just kept picking it every week (what a tedious chore), but I got about 3-4 cups of dried flowers out of a little 18"x24" patch. I would have had more but I got really tired of picking the flowers so just quit doing it after a while. It took a me a bit to learn to dry them well. The first batch mildewed, so I dried the next batch longer. Success. I love the taste of chamomile and since I'm such an insomniac it is a perfect tea for bedtime. It a relaxant and an anti-anxiety tea.

But I rarely use the chamomile alone. I like to mix it with a little peppermint. My three varieties are chocolate mint, orange mint and candymint. These are all peppermint varieties. I learned in past years that I really hate spearmint, so I stick to peppermints. The chocolate mint is my absolute favorite of the three. I really don't think it tastes like chocolate like so many people do, but it does have a very rich flavor that is lacking in most peppermints. And it goes beautifully with chamomile.

And just so you all know, orange mint does not taste like oranges, but is called that because of the color of its leaves in the fall. I do like it a bit better than the candymint. The candymint is a slightly harsher taste. They are all good however and good as an addition to my green tea too.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fruit Dreams

This afternoon I took a break from work. I got my tea. I got my catalog. Before I opened it up, I was thinking that a gooseberry would be nice in the garden. I've long been dreaming of gooseberries. They are such beautiful jewel like fruits. I love the translucent pinks or the pretty greens. What clinched my desire for gooseberries was a trip this fall to visit my MIL.

My MIL has a house in Missouri. There aren't many places to go out to eat there, but one nice place is a local diner. I love diners. They always have comfort food: meatloaf, chicken pot pie, biscuits and gravy. Yum. In addition, most diners specialize in pie. All sorts of pies. We decided to take out several little individual pies and try them at home. One of these pies was a gooseberry pie. It was the best of the batch. Oh how good it was. Sweet, tart, in other words, just perfect. I want to be able to make those pies.

But gooseberries cost so much at the store if you can find them at all (usually only in the farmer's market). It's kind of like my raspberries. They grow like weeds out here so are easy to grow, but don't ship well so the cost is high. It makes the perfect fruit choice for the garden.

As I picked up my catalog, I quickly flipped over to their fruit section. Pinetree doesn't sell gooseberries. Sob. But they sell cranberries. Wouldn't that be fun to grow. I just bought two bags at the store for cranberry ice, but I could grow them instead. Or how about the hardy paw paws? I think those would be so tasty. Too bad they are a tree instead of a bush. I have no room for another tree. Ditto with the persimmons. Which got me thinking about my tree situation in general.

I was told that the two Norway maples out front were put in by the town and were on their property. When they widened the road in front of my house in August they put in temporary property markers. The two trees are on my property, not the town's. If only I had known that 17 years ago when I moved in. I could have cut them down and put up some fruit trees. I've dreamt of apple and peach trees for ages, with no place to put them. Now I'm adding on paw paw dreams.

And no I won't cut the maples down now. We are looking to move sometime in the next year, so I don't want to start cutting down trees and doing a major remodel. I'll save that for the new house. For now I'll leave the paw paws and apples to the dreams. The gooseberry might make it out of my dreams and into the garden. Time will tell.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Bane of Too Many Catalogs

Today my daughter caught me reading a catalog. She knows that I've been frustrated because I get a plethora of them right now. Tis the season for wasted paper. I never order from them - OK I order from about 5 of them, but not from the over 100 that I get every year at this season. They have to stop.

Then my daughter asked me why I would be so enthralled with reading one if I wanted them to stop. Well this one was special. It was the first seed catalog of the year - from Pinetree. And to think just yesterday I was saying my excitement in the garden was over until the seed catalogs started to come. Time for a cup of tea and some excitement (of a kind only another gardener can appreciate).

I'm not stopping my seed catalogs. I usually order from 2 or 3 of them each year. Pinetree is one of my favorites since it has such low priced seed packets. I can try out so many kinds and not spend a fortune. Hmm . . . well spend less of a fortune.

I've already started marking it up. I'm thinking that the red carrot looks really good. And maybe the mini cabbages. Will the Neck Pumpkins that look like butternuts be resistant to vine borers like butternuts are? I really hope so. Should I grow New Zealand spinach for a summer green? My mother used to when I was growing up. I don't remember if I liked it or hated it.

What will I grow next year?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Last Harvests?

The weatherman was not my friend over the weekend. Our average low for this time of year is about 29F. Enough for the nights to freeze, but to have everything defrost in the sunlight. Fall crops grow well if protected from the freeze-thaw cycle with row covers. However we had been experiencing lows that were about 10F above that. We even had one day where the low was 50F. Things grow fabulously in this weather.

I was thinking I would have fresh lettuce on Thanksgiving. Then the weatherman said the weather pattern was changing. Cold was coming in. We might even have a low in the teens this week. Ack! This is 10F below average and too cold to keep things alive even with the row covers. I'd need a good cold frame to keep my plants growing in this weather. The ground could freeze solid for the year if the weather pattern doesn't break.

So Sunday I went out and harvested the root vegetables: carrots and leeks. I wanted them out of the soil before a total freeze over. Some of the carrots were huge, 1 1/2" in diameter at the top. There were also a lot of deformed ones. I'm guessing nementodes. I perpared the bed exceedly well. I didn't even need a shovel to dig them out. Just pull the tops and out they come. The leeks had both the small and the large. The largest was about 1" in diameter; the smallest was about pencil sized.

Today at noon I decided to go out and pick whatever elese might be ready. The sun doesn't hit the garden until about 1pm so nothing was defrosted. Moisture had condensed on the underside fo the plastic row cover during the previous day. Overnight it had frozen. So as I pulled the cover off, shards of ice flaked off.

The bunching onions were half frozen as was the bok choi. I picked them anyway. I hope they weren't frozen too much to defrost well. The lettuce seemed remarkable unfrozen. I picked most of it. I don't need it yet. I still haven't finished what I picked last week, but with lows in the mid to low 20s and highs in the mid 30s, they won't last very long. I left five plants just in case they survive the cold snap.

Everything else I left. Unless the weather changes back to warm weather, this was probably my last harvest in the garden. No more excitement until the seed catalogs arrive. I can't wait. And speaking of seeds, I have way too many parsly and dill seeds. More than I'll need for next year. If anyone wants some, email me. I'd be happy to ship some out.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Dream of Future Garden Bloggers Bloom Days

Well it is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day today, hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens. Since I started doing these posts last spring, I haven't missed one. It was fun to show off all my pretty flowers. But it is November now. The sun no longer shines here. Fall weather means drizzle, rain and gray skies. It also means my flowers are no longer in bloom.

Ok I do have two plants that are sort of still flowering - my feverfew and my chamomile. But their blooms are ragged and ugly. I have one creeping phlox that thinks it might be spring so has a couple of blossoms on one branch. Obviously it is testing the waters and seeing if it is OK to bloom. But it is not. It is cold. It is drizzly. Snow is just around the corner.

My dreams however are taunting me with a promise of blooms. Last night I dreamt about flowers. I was planting some species tulips and some crocus. I had found the perfect spot in the garden in my dream, a spot in the front border. In my mind's eye I could see them blooming there. I felt the joy of seeing their beauty.

However in reality that spot would be terrible for tulips. And no spot in my garden is safe for tulips or crocus. I've tried again and again to put them in. The squirrels appreciate my endeavores and dig them up again and again. I have no tulips in my yard. I have no crocus in my yard. So my dreams are taunting me, telling me I didn't try this year as I should have. Gardening is nothing if not perserverance in the face of adversity, foolish optimism over a known reality. I wasn't a true gardener this fall as pessimism took hold. I should hand my hoes back in to Carol. Or maybe my lack of tulips this spring will be punishment enough.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fall Harvest and Leaves

This week I had a nice little harvest of fall veggies. I chopped off the big chard leaves, for a great stir fry. I'm guessing this is the last of big leaves for me. Monday the cold weather is supposed to hit in force. By midweek we are supposed to have lows in the mid 20s. Brrr. This is below normal for us and my trusty weatherman was saying we will probably have below normal temps for the rest of the month.

The cold temps will probably take out most of my lettuce. This week I picked just a few small bunches, but early next week I'll probably pick most of what is left before the freeze.

The tatsoi (the huge green rosette in the top photo) has really come into its own this fall. It grew well in the spring and the fall, but it was small. Now the plants are getting twice as large as they used to. They love this weather. Their taste has really improved too. They are more mustardy without being sharp. I made Asian chicken soup with them yesterday. I chop up the stems and let them simmer for a while. The leaf part I cut in two and put in the bottom of the bowl, then pour the hot soup over them. That cooks them perfectly. They still have structure, but are slightly wilted. Yummy. In the summer I would always eat them in salads, but now that it is cold soup seem so much more appropriate.

This week I also hauled some leaves back to my leaf bin. As I come home from the store I pick up leaves that others have so nicely packed up for trash removal. The towns around here all do composting, so the leaves are packed in nice compostable brown bags. I look for places with mostly oak leaves.

On my way home I usually have a choice of oak, maple and pine needles as those are the most prevelent kinds of trees in the area. Pine needles take forever to compost and are highly acidic. Maple leaves have chemicals in them that prevent seeds from germinating well. I don't mind some of these, but I don't want most of the leaves to be maple. Especially since my own maples tree leaves end up in the pile. So I pick oak. Oak isn't too bad. It is a bit too acidic and takes a lot longer than maple to decay, but I'm going to use my leaves for composting the grass clippings next year not for leaf mold. So that will speed up the break down a lot.

When I get home I dump the contents into my bin and shred the bags too. Even if oak leaves were on top sometimes I find other things on the bottom (including maples leaves and pine needles). Once the whole bottom half was filled with pulled out plants. So I dumped those on the compost pile instead. More green stuff is always good. The empty pack of Marlboros however was not appreciated and I fished that out for the trash.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What Local Means to Me

This month's APLS carnival is about buying local. Now as a gardening blog, I ought to write about local eating and growing of my veggies. I'm not - though I have a post in mind that some year I'll get to on that subject. Nor am I going to write about personally buying local. This time of the year for me is about selling local. I'm a crafter. More specifically I'm a beadweaver. I take tiny little seed beads and turn them into jewelry and ornaments and sell them in the Boston area where I live.

I belong to the Sign of the Dove, which is an artists' cooperative. We have a year round store that is located in Porter Square, Cambridge, MA. It is a small store. Currently we have 22 artists. We all work the shifts and all pitch in to do the jobs that keep a store running. I love being in this store. It is a treat to meet the people buying your work and it is nice belonging to a community of other artists and crafters.

But this season is all about our holiday store which has about 60 artists. Every year we find an empty store front in the Cambridge area. This year it is in Harvard Square. We work hard to get a new store up and together by our opening day (this year it was November 7th). Our space was not very good to start with. It used to be a theater in the basement. They had painted the walls dark and taken the lighting out. But we all pitch in for all the chores that needed doing and after our Up and Down committee and our Display committee do their work the store is always beautiful.

My job in the coop is sales scheduling. There are day managers and cashiers too, but I only schedule the sales crew. 38 of our members are on sales this year. I hand out a form to all the group and get their schedules. Then I work to make sure we have the correct number of people working each shift. It is a very time consuming puzzle, but I get it done every year.

Being a local crafter is a very low paid job. We do it because we love it, not because we will get rich doing it. We love working with our hands; we love beauty; we love being with our fellow artists; we love seeing the smile on our customers faces when they find the perfect necklace. Above all we love the connection or we wouldn't be part of a cooperative.

And if I haven't been around commenting on your blog recently, now you know why I've been so busy. Life gets kind of crazy for me this time of year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fall Garden Update

This weekend I was busy cleaning up the garden. The dead tomato and pepper plants were pulled out. I chopped up the tomatoes and buried them under the soil. Tomatoes are so disease ridden here. I don't like to put the vines in the compost and spread it around the garden. I leave it in the place they grew. By spring everything will have disappeared into the soil and next year the tomatoes will grow in another spot. I keep a strict 3 year rotation for all my solanaceae crops. I wish I could do a four year rotation, but I like to grow too many of them. And next year I want potatoes too.

While the weather was nice I pulled off the row cover for a few days. The nights were in the 50s all weekend and the days were in the 60s, perfect for my fall crops. They are growing well, but the slugs are competing just as well. One Chinese cabbage (4 plants on the right) has just started to form a head, but the rest won't make it. In fact that one probably won't make it either, but I can always hope. My tatsoi (the large really dark green plants in the front) is doing fabulous. The slugs don't like it as much as my Fun Jen (light green shredded plants) so it is growing huge. I think a stir fry is in order later this week. And as always my mizuna (back left) is doing fabulous, which is par for the course this year. It grew well in the spring, in the summer and now in the fall. I've definitely found a keeper with this plant. It goes in my garden every year from now on.

My first broccoli plant was ready to pick. The head is not huge, but it is obviously at that state where if I don't pick it the flowers will open. There are lots of little florets all along the stem. I hope they have time to grow before everything freezes over. Next year I have to plant earlier. These are just like my Chinese cabbage, planted too late in the season to produce well.

My peas were still growing, but not really producing anymore. The plant handles the freezes just fine, but the flowers don't set well. Powdery mildew has set in and taken over, so it seemed a good time to pull the plants up. I cut them off at ground level and tossed the dying foliage into the compost bin. Spring is really the better season for peas, but fall is such good stir fry weather, I couldn't resist the snowpeas.

Now I have no trellises left in the garden. It looks rather sad and lonely out there. But there are still plants to pick: leeks, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, onions, and all my Asian greens. I probably only have 2-3 weeks left of growing season before everything freezes hard. I'll have to time digging my last carrots up. It would be sad to have them permenently frozen into the ground.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fruit Garden

The colors of autumn have very much faded in the last couple of days. Yesterday we had a big wind storm that blew most of the leaves off of the trees. But a couple of days ago my fruit garden was beautiful.

My dogwood, which I've raved about for other reasons was afire. The bright red fruit have long since been eaten by my squirrels. Now its show is all about the leaves. It might not rival a swamp maple for color, but still it has a lot of beauty.

The brightest of all in my fruit garden are my blueberries. I planted six of them along the driveway in the spring. They haven't grown to their full size yet, but they are certainly putting on a beautiful show with their bright reds. They are as showy as any ornamental. I can't wait to taste them next year.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Special Voter Turnout for Me

Yesterday my husband went to the polls. He could see all our families names on the voter registration list. Next to my daughter's name was the little letters saying she got her absentee ballot. Next to my son's name was nothing. He had asked for info on how to get his ballot, but he never followed through. Needless to say my husband and I were disappointed in him. So my husband called him and told him he needed to come home and vote.

He goes to school at Brown in RI and we live in Massachusetts. So for him it was just a half hour walk to the train station then an hour long commuter rail ride to Boston, then a half hour subway ride to get home. Oh yeah and I had to drop everything to pick him up at the subway stop. So once again. I was playing the mom again and driving him all over. But he voted in his first election. Yea!

I'm hoping that my daughter filled in her ballot and sent it in. I know she took the time to educate herself on the candidates and questions. I know because she came home a couple of weeks ago and made me teach her how. But if she did than the family had 100% voter turnout.

In fact Winchester as a whole did pretty well. We had 88% turnout. But then again there were no lines at the polls. It was easy to get in (at least in Precincts 5 and 6). Go Winchester for making it easy.

My son said he didn't come home just for the election. He wanted to take some things to school. He and his suitemates have been making Sunday morning breakfasts. He wanted a fry pan. I actually did have one I was willing to part with. He wanted measuring cups and spoons. I gave him one of my sets. I couldn't help him with the mixing bowl. I use them all the time.

Then I asked him if he wanted his Corelleware. I replaced mine a couple of years ago. My old stuff was chipped on the edges, but I split the set in two and saved them for the kids since it is perfect for college use. My son was saying they were using paper plates and plastic cups. I ribbed him about destroying the planet. So he finally took some of it back. I got to see him for about an hour before he left on the train again. But it was a fun visit.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Raspberry Heaven

We had a heavy frost last night, but once things were defrosted, I went out to pick the raspberries. They don't seem to mind the cold at all. The flowers are gone, but the fruit that has set is still ripening. Very slowly. I only pick them about twice a week right now and I only get about half a cup at a time.

This has been one of the best years of all time for raspberries. The fall harvest started on August 28th and is still going. During this time I picked 1/4c - 1c of raspberries every day. Plus these are everbearers, so they also produced for a few weeks in July. I'm guessing I got over 8 quarts of raspberries on my little 5'x6' plot along the driveway.

I attribute this to the early summer rains. We had about twice as much rain as usual. I suppose I could start watering my raspberries so they produce like this every year, but I know I won't. The fruit garden is one of those places in my garden that I never water. I rarely fertilize it either. Just the occasional compost or wood chips every few years.

So where are the raspberries now? I froze some when I was getting a cup a day. I made some into raspberry crisp, but mostly I ate them on my cereal. I love raspberries on cereal and this year, for about three months, I got this treat. Yum.