Saturday, July 4, 2015

Garden fireworks



Happy Independence Day! A few years back I wrote here about the memory of my 5-year-old son seeing dill blossoms in our garden and excitedly saying, "Look, Mom! A firecracker plant!"




Well, now the tides have turned, because after hours and hours working in my yard this week I'm starting to see the garden in fireworks. I'm posting these pictures soon after taking them, and since fireworks go off in the dark it's naturally rather late and ... the tired sillies may or may not be in effect.  All the same, I present my garden fireworks gallery:



Sprinkler





Reverse dandelions -- white stem and green seed heads





Birds and blue sky




Hummingbird and flower



Scarecrow




I always wondered how to get fireworks pictures that weren't a)nothing but tiny dots or b)nothing but glare. I set my digital SLR to low ISO (100) and bulb shutter speed, meaning the shutter stayed open as long as I pressed the button. These images were between 3 and 20 seconds. A tripod is helpful, although I didn't use one for these pictures.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Our children WANT to eat vegetables, they really do!







My 13-year-old daughter was thrilled that the peak of our garden peas coincided with her week of ballet rehearsals and recitals. "Non-messy" snacks were allowed in the dressing room, and she thought the peas would be perfect. She bounced in the house after her ride home from dress rehearsal and gleefully reported that when the dancers pooled their snacks, her peas were gone in a flash. "At the end of the night the Doritos were still there!" she said incredulously. Her contribution was a favorite, and that made her feel great.

I was surprised the peas were a hit. I half-expected other kids to poke fun, the way my lunchroom pals teased Dee P. for eating raw jalapeños, or Jeff V. for packing sandwich ingredients singly instead of already assembled. (Given the success of Lunchables, he was on to something!) One breakfast at camp the counselor gathered kids to stare at me when I sliced a banana into my cereal bowl, voicing doubts anyone would eat such a thing.

My neighbor has twins with wildly different tastes; the daughter asks for Twinkies in her lunch, the son requests salad. Guess which one the mom calls "a weird kid?"

All of my babies started out loving vegetables. What changes to make so many children forget this about themselves? What is it about our society that labels vegetable- and fruit-loving children as the oddballs?

My daughter's experience sharing peas with her ballet class reminds me that our children really do want vegetables. We need to unabashedly keep offering them.

What are some of your children's favorites?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday snapshot: Instinct



I'm amazed that seeds can transform from a pebble in a little boy's pocket to food for his tummy.



I'm amazed that a baby robin -- so new out of the nest that it doesn't yet know how to fly -- nevertheless knows how to run, and when that isn't enough, how to puff itself up something fierce to scare off a curious, playful dog.

I'm amazed at these things, and my own instinct is to smile and be grateful for my backyard piece of this beautiful world.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bean teepees from yard waste



Garden problem #1: Man, these shoots are growing out of nowhere. I'll have to cut them and haul them away. Sigh.

Garden problem #2: Hmm, are we out of stakes in the shed? I guess I'll have to go buy some before I can make the bean teepee. Ugh, another errand.


DING, DING, DING!

Are you quicker than I am?

Yep, it took me a minute, but I finally clued in that problem #1 was the solution for problem #2.

The 6-foot long shoots I cut were about a half-inch in diameter. My garden helper (I use the term loosely) and I cut away the small side branches and made five poles to use as a teepee for beans. I gathered the poles at the top and then spread them out in a circle with the bases of most poles about 18 inches apart. Two poles are farther apart, like a door, to allow my son to enter the teepee.

I pushed the poles in the ground a few inches and wrapped the tops with some twine to keep them connected. The whole assembly probably took three minutes. (My brain wave took much longer!)

I have made teepees from man-made garden stakes before, but definitely prefer the natural approach. I like the look, it used materials on hand, and the flexibility of the branches made installation easier. The notches from cut twigs also make the poles interlock.



Simple garden teepees can accommodate cucumbers, melons and squashes. They are great space-saving measures in a garden. Just be sure to carefully consider placement in your garden, such as at the north end where their height won't block sun to surrounding plants.



For a bean teepee use pole beans, not bush (which are perfectly tasty but don't climb). We planted five seeds around each pole. That was the funnest part. My 7-year-old son said, "Hey, these seeds look like candy!" "Yeah, you're right, they do kind of look like Tictacs," I replied.

"And old people candy!" he declared.

I'm still scratching my head about that one. Happy planting!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Cooking radishes



File this one under "you CAN teach an old dog new tricks."

For decades I relegated radishes to relish trays and occasional salad garnishes. Nothing else. (Can I pause to say it's weird to be able to use the word decades?) I never considered cooking radishes. Then the recent discovery that the leafy tops are edible, too, opened the door to all sorts of possibilities.

I like to sauté radishes and their greens in a little olive oil. To clean, swish the radishes (tops and bottoms) in a bowl of water and let dirt settle to the bottom. Scrub the roots well, peeling or scraping off "whiskers" if needed. Separate roots from leafy tops, and cut the roots into equal size pieces. Coarsely chop greens. Heat oil in skillet over medium high heat. Cook roots first, since they will take longer than the greens. When the roots are lightly golden brown add the greens and cook until slightly wilted but still vibrant green. Season with salt. If desired sauté garlic with the radishes.

This method caramelizes the radishes and adds a mellow depth to their peppery kick. Try grilling or roasting, too. The slender, white radishes I cooked are icicle radishes.

Tell us, how do you like to eat radishes? Got any more tricks?



Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dad in the garden


Happy Father's Day!

I got my love of gardening from my father. I lived in several childhood homes, and in each yard my dad carved out a large vegetable garden plot. Our job as children was to weed the rows of corn, peas, beets, tomatoes, carrots and beans. Growing up I never saw a yellow pear tomato anywhere but at home, which made them special. I plant them still. We also had strawberries, raspberries and apricot and peach trees. One of my earliest memories is of my baby brother scampering through the garden in his PJs and throwing green fallen peaches like the fuzzy tennis balls they resembled.

Naturally we had zucchini in profusion. One evening when I was about 8 my father laughed during his evening newspaper reading ritual. He called my mother in from the other room so he could read out loud from his recliner. It was an article -- a humor column, I think now -- about the art of delivering zucchini by stealth to unsuspecting neighbors. My parents chuckled. I was more concerned: how did the newspaper find out about us?

Gardening was easy for my dad. Then we moved into a new area surrounded by beautiful woods. Like all the homes before, my dad built a big garden box. The deer loved it. So my dad built a fence around the garden. The deer got a bit more jumping exercise before eating, that was all. Never had my father's green thumb been so challenged! Finally my dad decided to put a net over the garden. But this was no ordinary net, oh no. Instead of buying a net, my dad MADE one out of a big spool of string, channeling his frustration at those deer into every single knot. It worked!



Today my dad is in yet another home with a new garden plot, this time back in his home town. I love to visit ... because I love this gardener.



What memories do you have of your father or grandfather in the garden?





Friday, June 19, 2015

Storing bulbs for next season



If you happen to come across spring bulbs as you dig in your garden this summer, don't discard them in defeat. Instead, selectively set aside those in good shape to plant in the fall.

Tulips and daffodils are among my favorite flowers and I love them in profusion. Yet I don't worship the ground they bloom on; once they're done, I need the space for something else. In some areas of my yard I've mixed early bulbs with perennials that emerge later in the season. I also plant annuals after bulb flowers die back. In these cases I just leave the bulbs in the ground all year.


But face it, landscapes change so much in the season that it's hard to remember exactly where a bulb may lie. My shovel inevitably finds a few!

Here's the most important tip of bulb storage: Only save healthy, whole ones. See my picture? Split happens. Don't save such a bulb. You know how you can save a whole onion for weeks and weeks, but once you slice it it spoils quickly? It's the same idea with bulbs. Cut surfaces invite mold and rot.

If your dug up bulb has foliage, keep it on until it fades from green to brown. (Confession time: while I know that bulbs derive nourishment for next year's bloom from this year's leaves, I'm not positive if they get the exact same benefit once removed from the ground. It's easier, though, to detach the bulb for storage once you let the foliage die out. No matter what, they can bloom again, I promise.) Besides, if you accidentally dug them up what do you have to lose?

Remove excess mud or dirt from roots, then spread bulbs out to dry (they will have some moisture from being in the ground). A nursery flat is ideal for this. Let any foliage go brown. You can ignore them for a while, then eventually pack the bulbs in a paper sack, separating out any that are blemished. I haven't been too fussy about where I store them -- basement, shed -- it hasn't seemed to matter much. Probably more important (at least for me) is making myself a note on the calendar where I put them!

You may wonder, what do bulbs have to do with running a backyard farm? I have had great success for several years with bulbs as place-keepers in my vegetable garden boxes. When I pull out tomatoes at the end of fall I plant the garden box with bulbs. They brighten my days when they bloom in the spring, and also take the space away from opportunistic weeds. Once the flowers fade I pull each stem and bulb from the ground; when the ground is just right I don't have to use tools for this, just my hands. The tenancy and removal of tulips seems to aerate the soil, too.  In a matter of weeks my box goes from this:




to this:


I'll revisit this topic in the fall with other tips for planting bulbs. Oh, better put it on the calendar!