Showing posts from 2011

The End of the Broccoli

When we cleaned up the garden for the winter, we left a row of broccoli plants under a greenhouse hoop to see if their small heads and side shoots would plump up at all. When we tucked them under the plastic, they looked really great:

A few weeks ago I had harvested some nice, green shoots for a salad — they were tender and tasty, if a bit on the small side. At that time, when I cut the center head, there were lots of side shoots to be had:

Ah, but then the winds blew. There was no blizzard, no storm--not really even any rain. But the wind gusted up around 40-45 mph, and that was enough to uncover our remaining broccoli:

We could hear the plastic flapping loose before we went to bed, but no one was about to step out into the dark of night and wind chills of 5 degrees Fahrenheit to try to fix it. As you can see, the broccoli plants didn't like that one bit, and froze up. 
All that's left to do is see what can be salvaged from the dead (or dying) plants. As it turns out, there …

Nine Heads of Cabbage

Remember all that cabbage we harvested last week?

Our first, fresh use of it was that night, in fish tacos. Jonas doesn't usually put lettuce on his tacos at all, but when we convinced him to try cabbage, he liked it. Maybe because it's crispier?

Still, there are only four of us, so we only used a little bit of cabbage on the tacos. The rest went into the sauerkraut crock:

Sauerkraut is pretty easy to make; it just takes time. All you have to do is grate all your cabbage and mix in some salt. We use the Ball Blue Bookfor our recipe, but there's also some good info on how to make it at Mother Earth News
All you need is cabbage and salt, because sauerkraut is made by fermenting it. The salt helps draw out the water, and you basically let it sit until it ferments. The lactic acid that comes from this process is a preservative, and also creates the tangy flavor. This is real sauerkraut, and it has a much more mellow and complex flavor than the stuff you get in a can (or wor…

Blow, Winter Wind

Many can brook the weather that love not the wind.
~Love's Labour's Lost, Act 4, scene 2

Again. There hasn't been much winter weather to speak of this year, but when the wind blows in Newburyport, things fall down. Another section of fence between us and our nice neighbors is flat on the ground. I think the whole thing is doomed, but it's not the time of year (financially or weather-wise) to put up a whole new fence. We haven't even fixed the section that came down last year yet, which is, admittedly, pretty sad.
We are lucky to have great neighbors, though. We bumped into them during a wine store run downtown this morning, and we'll split the repair cost and responsibility of the two sections. I suppose if they get their section up really fast, we'll have to get out there and finally finish ours, or we'll look like terrible neighbors. 
Still, if we have some time to think about it, we could revisit the design of the fence. The neighbors probably want th…

Winter Garden Greens

Two items are still going (relatively) strong in our winter garden — and I can say that now that it is officially winter. Sure, it's super-warm today (52 degrees as I am writing this, even though the sun set about 45 minutes ago), but for me, the cold has never been the hard part of winter. The truly terrible part is the darkness. So solstice is worth celebrating — after our mere 9 hours and 4 minutes of daylight in Newburyport today, we are climbing back up from what always feels to me like the bottom of the year. 
Anyway, despite the darkness and the temperatures that dropped to the teens last weekend, we've got some unprotected kale that is doing just fine:

The kale is the curly, slightly bluish greenery you see here. Several weeds are also (still) thriving, too. This kale had been under the greenhouse hoop, and wasn't doing particularly well--there isn't much here. It doesn't need the heat under the plastic at all, and actually tastes sweeter when it is out in…

Solstice Harvest

Our garden clean-up last weekend wasn't just about pulling out dead things and battening down for winter. There was also a harvest involved. Looking at the bounty below, I am reminded that a lot of our late-fall gardening experiments were pretty successful, even if the season has finally drawn to a close for us. These are things that used to be growing under the greenhouse hoop that we dismantled:

Lots of carrots. Many of them were eaten that very night!

Salad greens. You can see some spinach and beet greens mixed in with a good deal of arugula. Those guys just won't quit!

The herbs here are the last bits of the cilantro we cut before giving up on the straggly remains. Underneath (where you can't really see it) are mint leaves and a few stems of marjoram that hadn't yet died back, although most of those plants were finally killed back by the temps in the teens this past weekend. There is also a bit of sage on top. You may recall that I cut it back before, when I thoug…

Tidying Up for Winter

This weekend we got out to do our last garden chores of the 2011 season. From here on out, we'll only be harvesting — and precious little of that, since it got so cold. The entire day we were working on Sunday, it never got beyond 35 degrees, and the wind chill was only in the 20s. That's about when it stops being fun to be outside doing anything other than sledding or pond skating, if you ask me.
The first thing we did was to finally patch up the bricks around this driveway fence post:

Although that section of fence has been re-installed for almost a full five months now, we only filled the bricks in around the gap on Saturday afternoon. I'm not sure why we kept putting it off (although it might have had something to do with my vow never to pick up another brick as long as I live), but it wasn't very hard to do. Anyway, we got them in before the ground freezes and (possibly) heaves, so I guess it's all good. And that is officially the last brick laid.
We also too…

The Last Great Salad of 2011

It is, at last, getting very cold. Last night I went out and picked what I'm pretty certain was one of the last salads of the year for us. Our greenhouse hoops with carrots, lettuce, and the cilantro is on its last legs: the cilantro has started to succumb to the cold, and there's not much lettuce left in there to pick. In preparation for some really cold (low 20s) nights this weekend, I picked a lot of unprotected greens, carrots, and herbs. Here's what I ended up with:

The mixed greens included arugula, spinach, beet greens, mache, mesclun, and a bit of romaine I found growing back on a stem we had cut months ago. I also added some mint, cilantro, and chives that were hanging on through the cold. 
The carrots, by the way, are true baby carrots. "Baby carrots" from the grocery store are usually actually regular carrots that are whittled down to standard sizes and shapes. (I don't even want to think about what happens to the wasted carrot shavings.) For our …

Local Honey

This week I've been afflicted with some major laryngitis and so have been consuming mass quantities of hot tea with honey and lemon. Since I ran out and had to go to Tendercrop to get more honey, I've been thinking about it (while I'm not trying to sleep off this cold, anyway). Like a lot of foods, honey is much better tasting when you get it closer to home.

There are many, many different kinds of honey out there. Most of what we get from the grocery store is from clover, which means that the bees go to clover flowers. But think of all the other flowers out there: blossoms on fruit trees and berry bushes, roses, wildflowers … endless possibilities and combinations for endless varieties of honey.

We tried a wildflower honey once before from Whole Foods, and I was not a fan. It was very, very flowery tasting — like an Earl Grey honey, it was kind of perfumey. Perhaps it's an acquired taste.

The last time we needed honey we got it at Tendercrop, our local farm. There the…

Tales From the Green Valley

Once upon a time, in the bleak midwinter, we would get depressed. I don't think this is unusual in and of itself, but we used to channel our Seasonal Affective Disorder by plotting grand plans of escape and/or renovation: the unbuilt garage-mahal, the kitchen remodel, the first garden re-do at the Red House, an untaken sabbatical in England. It should come as no surprise that we moved to Newburyport during the Winter Solstice. Some things come to fruition; other plans are shelved as the days get longer.

One of our lingering fantasies from the dark days is the idea that we should pick up and move to England. Or Wales. (And yes, we are aware that winters are actually darker there. Nobody claims this is logical.) We actually almost did it once, going so far as to applying for work visas and taking tests to prove we are competent speakers of English. (Alas, U.S. workers have to jump through many more hoops that their E.U. counterparts, which makes no sense as the linguistic and cultu…

Settling Down for a Long Winter's Nap

Kirk got called into work today, so our plans to finish the last bit of pre-winter clean-up in the garden fell through. There are just some leaves to scoop up and a few bricks left to put down around the driveway gate, but I guess we'll get to it next weekend. Good thing there's still no snow in the forecast.

One thing that did get done this week was this:

Not just the wreath, people (although that's nice, too). The giant pile of dirt is gone! Kirk finished filling the beds, and we got rid of the extra stone dust via freecycle. Once that was out of the way, Kirk made a mad dash to clean up the inside of the garage so I can park my car in there again. It's been months since there's been room for it in there, and I'm getting used to remembering to go to the garage to get my car in the morning. Not that I mind!

Decking the Halls

When we moved into our house, the perennial border needed a lot of work. I've posted "before" photos of the border before, but these were really process shots showing what it looked like after we dug out or trimmed back a ton of overgrown stuff. I guess you could call them the "blank slate" pictures.

One of the worst parts of the border back in the winter of 2010 was the holly bush, which clearly hadn't been pruned for several seasons:

The tall tree in the front was a flowering pear tree that we chopped down a few months after this photo was taken. (Who plants a pear tree that doesn't produce pears? Clearly, that didn't belong in our future orchard space.) Behind that tall tree, against the house, are the holly bushes. The male one (against the porch to the right) is nice and compact, and needed only a trim to shape it up. But to the left of that (on the corner of the house where it meets the porch) is the female holly. Here you can see that it loo…

Late Autumn Cilantro

This week has been strange, weather-wise. It started out weirdly warm for December with temperatures in the 60s, and (according to our humidifier) inside the house the humidity level has been hovering in the 60s as well. That is incredibly unusual for the winter — we have very dry heat in our house, and usually it's a struggle to keep the humidity level in the 40s with the humidifier running all day. It hasn't been on at all this week.

We opened up all the the cold frames and greenhouse tunnels while it was warm to get some fresh air circulating and to let in the rain of the last two days. They are closed up again now, though, because the temps are falling steadily, and there might be a little snow by morning.

As strange as the weather this fall has been, it is apparently perfect for cilantro. The plants we grew from seed sown back in August are enormous now — bushy and probably about three feet high. Their stems are very thick. The best part, though, is that they haven't…

The Long Haul

I just finished a book that I stumbled on at the library several weeks ago: Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Landby Kurt Timmermeister. (Grammar alert: I copied the title exactly as it appears on the cover; I do not endorse the capitalization of the preposition "off" in the title. I suppose one could argue that "live off" functions as a verb, and that therefore "off" isn't a preposition at all in the structure of the title ... this is clearly a topic for another blog. I wonder if "World Grammar Police" is an available url?)

Anyway, this is a memoir from a guy who bought a crappy farm on an island near Seattle and rehabbed it to be a working dairy farm. Eventually he quit his job, and he now makes a pretty self-sufficient living off his 12 acres. I'm not whole heartedly recommending this book — I wasn't a fan of the writing style, which relied far too heavily on adverbs to add interest to its repetitive sentence stru…

So Where's Everybody From?

I don't have any new garden pictures or updates for you today. I have to say, it's getting kind of hard to get a good photo during the one hour of waning daylight left by the time I get home from work. These are the darkest days now, as we hurtle toward the solstice.

Without any photos for me to share with you today, I thought it would be a good time to ask: Where're y'all from?

If you have never kept a blog of your own, you might not know that the writer of one gets a bunch of stats about who has hit on the webpage. Most of it's not very interesting: I don't care how many of you use your iPhone vs. a PC or what browser you use to surf the web.

The one interesting part, though, is the map. Blogger keeps track of what country readers are in when they check out my page. It's fascinating! Here's my readership map for November:

I figured my readers were mostly my Facebook friends, and I know where they are. But now my list of countries is getting long! Che…

Pallet Compost Bins

Another trash-to-treasure accomplishment from this past weekend? New compost bins made of out of the pallets leftover from all the bricks we used back in the summer.
Up to this point, our compost piles were incredibly slap-dash. When we moved in, we knew we wanted to get them started, so we used some wire fencing to make big, circular corrals for our leaves, kitchen scraps, and garden waste:

As you can see, they are neither attractive nor particularly sturdy. The one on the right has fallen apart, but that also reveals that, after two seasons of breaking down, there's some nice, dark stuff in there.
Still, after going to all the trouble of designing and building our dream garden, it would be a shame to spoil the view by leaving piles of crap around the edges. In fact, our compost bin design helped us deal with not one but two piles of crap at the same time:

We had a dozen or so pallets in varying conditions from all the bricks stacked up in the driveway. These are just a couple o…

Fall Clean Up: Use What You Got

Looks like I made the right call by refusing to rake leaves until they had all fallen. That decision was not only more efficient, but it also set us up to take our time with the fall clean-up over the long holiday weekend, and it let us do it in the comfort of temperatures in the mid-60s. It was a little disorienting to feel like three seasons were mixing together, but it was way more enjoyable than it usually is.

We have taken down several trees since we moved in, but we still have a gigantic maple in the front yard. This tree manages to dump leaves absolutely everywhere, so raking is a pretty big job (there are two other deciduous trees in the back that contribute too, but nowhere near the way the big one does). It's good to have lots of help:

The kids did a lot of jumping, but they also stood on the tarp to hold it down while Kirk pushed the leaves onto it. Then everyone grabbed a corner to lug the pile to the back. This was repeated several times.

While that was happening on …

The Great Brussels Sprout Experiment, Part 2

It feels like much, much longer ago, but about three weeks ago, I broke off many of the leaves on our Brussels sprouts plants to encourage the buds to fill out to an edible size. I also fertilized, watered, and gave a little love to these plants. The only other thing we did for them between then and now is added a hoop house over them to keep them from freezing and to try to encourage them to grow, even though the season really ought to be over.
Our Brussels sprouts were nowhere near ready for Thanksgiving dinner, so we bought some from Tendercrop. As a point of comparison, here's what they look like when grown by people who know what they are doing:

And here's what ours looked like as of today:

Not at all impressive, although a few are plumping up here and there. the best ones are on the small stalk that I accidentally beheaded while pulling the leaves off a few weeks ago:

Looking at this one — the one that I was pretty sure would die without any leaves left when I broke it …