Showing posts from August, 2011

The Damage

Hurricane Irene turned out not to be a very big deal for us. The power flickered maybe 3 times but stayed on; the cable went out for a couple hours on Sunday and again this morning. During the storm, Kirk had to run outside during a break in the rain (yes, we had breaks in the rain here on the North Shore) to stake one of our peach tree that had developed a worrisome Torre di Pisa quality to it.

The only thing we had lying about to use as a stake was this bamboo pole. It is one of several leftovers that were part of privacy fence sections we used in the Red House. I really like the way it looks, and am now wondering if they will be strong enough for permanent use.

Today (as you can see in the photos) is just gorgeous, and when I went out into the brilliant blue and sunshine, this is what I found in the garden:

Some maple leaves blew onto the patio and into the garden beds. And …

A branch came down. This is a four-foot path, so that should give you an idea of just how not big this is.

Fun With Basil

After prepping for Irene, the last thing I did as it started to rain (after calling the kids home from the neighbors' house) was clip a few stems of basil to bring into the house. We popped then into a glass of water to keep them fresh, which should last a few days — certainly longer than the hurricane. The dishes that follow aren't exactly the world's most creative uses for basil, but there's no need to get super-fancy with a great fresh ingredient. Besides, we were expecting a hurricane, not hosting a dinner party. Anyway, here's what we did with the basil this weekend:

Friday: Tarted Up Frozen Pizza
I hate grocery shopping on a good day, so Friday's trip to Market Basket was extra-special horrible, packed as it was with slightly panicked hurricane shoppers. After that, I wasn't about to actually cook dinner too, as that is another task I am iffy about (in case you haven't picked up on it from previous posts, Kirk is the chef of the family). Instead, …

Battening Down the Hatches

So we heard it might be a little breezy this weekend and thought it would be a good idea to clean up around the yard. Since we're still well within the middle of this massive garden project, there were a lot of things outside to pick up. Lots of things went back into the garage: the sprinklers and hoses, the wheelbarrow, loose boards that we had used to hold down plastic sheeting, and various odds and ends (planters, buckets, etc.). Also inside went the grill, although if (more like when) we lose power, we may need to pull it back out to cook. We also used some of the leftover pallets to hold down the tarp over the piles of sand and compost in the driveway. Hopefully that works and the pallets are heavy enough to stay at least on our property, because we'd like to reuse them to make a series of new compost bins in the fall.

Another part of the Hurricane Irene prep was cutting some flowers in the perennial border. The phlox, for instance, would definitely get the shit kicked o…

The Very Hungry Caterpillars

The weather this week has been just gorgeous, so it has been a pleasure to go out each morning and make a loop around the winter veggies to pull stray weeds, keep seedlings watered, and to get the lawn sprinklers going. Oh, and I have a new job during that walk-about as well.

Since the earthquake didn't manage to shake these guys off, I have to pick the cabbage loopers off all the plants they are eating. This one is on a cabbage seedling. If you're having trouble seeing him, I am too. They are ever-so-cleverly the exact same color as the leaves of all plants in the cabbage family: cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc. To make it even harder, they are very often right in the center of the leaf along the vein, and they are well-camouflaged there because they look like a continuation of that. That's where this one is, in case you haven't put your contacts in yet today. He's right below the giant holes chewed in the leaves.

If a few tiny holes were the only issue,…

Houston, We Have a Salad

After a lovely day at the beach on Plum Island, I went out to weed and thin our first plantings. Guess what? There were enough leaves from the seedlings I had to pull out for an honest-to-God salad! Here's what I saved from the thinning:

On the left is lettuce; on the right is bok choy. That's kind of a weird salad ingredient, but it was small and tender. There's more:

On the left is arugula; on the right is beet greens (with the red stems) and turnip greens (with white/purple stems).

We decided to mix it all together for a micro-green salad for dinner. Kirk topped the salad with the world's easiest dressing: lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil. No mixing or measuring — just squeeze or sprinkle or drizzle on and toss.  It's really light and fresh, and perfect when your veggies already taste good. The finished product:

This was delicious and satisfying … right up until I noticed part of it was crawling around my plate. Even though we rinsed and spu…

It Is Finished

The perennial border is fully planted! Today I finished putting in the last plants in the spot where the giant hydrangea and wisteria were. So without further ado:

This section is in the front of the house, most of which was planted a few weeks ago. The new part is the group of big puffy white flowers in the center of the photo. These are phlox, and they smell lovely. Eventually they should be much taller and rise above everything else (to be about even with the shrubs in the back). Right now they are actually shorter than the daylilies in the center of the bed, so it's a little weird. (I am not the world's most patient gardener.)

If you've been keeping up with the progress of the perennial border, you've already seen this. The new phlox are to the far right of the photo, so this is now a complete view of the front of the house.

This is the side of the house where the big hydrangea used to be. To the left is a smaller white (drying to pinkish) hydrangea that we kept. …

Plants Are Popping Up

Today I found a new nursery, and I love it for two reasons. First, Newbury Perennial Gardens is at someone's house, and you ring a big old bell if they aren't around at the selling shed. Second, they have a 50% off everything sale in August, so I was able to pick up plants for the rest of the perennial border at a fantastic price.

They also had some herbs left, and I got some tarragon, marjoram, and chives. It was lucky that the ones they had just happened to match the ones needed in the bed that's actually ready to be planted. They also had rosemary, and although we don't have the bed where that goes ready yet, for half price I'll find somewhere to put it for now. We were never able to overwinter rosemary at the old house, so it won't be in the ground long before I pot it up and bring it inside for the winter anyway.

From left to right are the tarragon, marjoram, and lavender. In the background where the bed bends you can see the sprouts of fall cabbage and b…

Organic Round-Up

Last week we started the process of trying to remove the giant wisteria root from the perennial border. You may recall that Kirk had taken an axe to it and we were letting it dry out a bit before trying to go after it some more with a one-two punch of hacking and spraying.

During the week I attacked it with a product I found called Burn Out II. This is a herbicide that is made with clove and citrus oils, and if you spray it on a sunny day, it kills all the leaves of whatever you spray it on. And it smells great—like a clove orange at Christmas, if you've ever made one of those. I am really excited about this stuff, since we have an organic garden and aren't thrilled about spraying real Round-Up anywhere. I also looked at other herbicides, but they were even worse: wear a mask, don't use near children and dogs, etc. I know, I know: Burn Out II doesn't get to the root the way Round-Up is supposed to, but if you keep killing all the leaves, eventually the plant will die f…

The Injury Report

I have to say, I've been slowing down this week. It did rain a lot, which let me stay inside and skip some waterings, and it's been nice to back off a bit as that short break has become kind of a habit. After two (almost) solid months of hard labor, I'm kind of tired. There's still a lot to do before winter, but now that things are planted and summer is winding down, I'm fine with just picking at things instead of working 8-hour days out there. It would be nice to enjoy some funstuff before summer is over, too.

Another reason to take it a little easier is that I'm racking up gardening-related aches and pains like nobody's business. From top to toe, here's the litany:

1. Scalp sunburn.  Preventable for sure, but working suntan lotion into the line of my part every single day is kind of horrible. I know, I know: not as horrible as melanoma....

2. Tennis elbow

Or some other tendonitis, both elbows. I think this comes from the repetitive stress of shovel…

Planting Seeds and Pulling Weeds

Now that we have at least one quadrant of the garden in plantable condition, working out in the garden feels kind of normal. Instead of gigantic building projects, there's just some regular maintenance. Don't get me wrong: there's still plenty of big, dirty digging projects and a whole boatload of cleanup to be done, but on an average Tuesday it is possible to make a loop around the beds to monitor progress, put in another succession planting, and pull a weed or two. This might, then, be a boring progress report, but it feels really great to be enjoying regular gardening again!

Planting Seeds
Last night we finished the last little bit of bed prep in the first quadrant, so today I was able to plant out the second cold frame. To make things easy, the planting scheme is exactly the same as in the first cold frame: arugula, kale, mache, mustard greens, carrots, beets, turnips, mesclun, and spinach. These new seeds are about 10 days behind the first planting, which should help …

Garden Scents

A garden is really an experience that hits all five senses. I've mostly been sharing photos, and the nature of writing about it means you're getting a lot of visual imagery. The day before we left for our quick weekend trip to Pennsylvania, though, was a case study in olfactory gardening. Here are the smells of midsummer in our garden.


We enjoyed some lovely cool temperatures (like highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s) in the middle part of last week, and the wind off the water was partly responsible for this. Whenever we get an east wind, I am reminded just how close we are to the Atlantic Ocean and the Merrimack River. Of course I know this all the time, but when the cool moist air blows in over the High Street ridge, I really know it because I can smell the sea-salt air all around me. This is one of my all-time favorite smells, so every time it blows up I am glad we moved here. Smelling the ocean makes working in the garden feel less like working and more like a vacation…

Fun With Mint

The best part of growing food is eating it, so this week we are enjoying our first harvest with recipes that call for mint. Here's what we came up with:

Sunday: Zucchini Pancakes
When we have lots of zucchini in the summer, we'll often have these as the main course. We got this zucchini at a local farm, though, along with sirloin that (previously) grazed in a pasture that's about 2 1/2 miles from our house. We were hungry from all that work!

Kirk won't give me an exact recipe because he says it didn't turn out right--he thinks that salting the zucchini and squeezing out the water would help make it crispier. Everyone else thought it was fine.

So in general, grate a zucchini, a carrot, and a small onion. Add some chopped mint (a little goes a long way), 1 egg, 1/4 c. flour. Stir it all up in a mixing bowl and add salt and pepper to taste. Fry it by dropping a spoonful of mixture into a pan of hot olive oil. It takes about 4–5 minutes, and they need to be flipped. Th…

Flower Power

Last week I was pretty down on the perennial border. Perhaps it's hard to tell with all the veggieprep, but ever since spending those couple of days pulling all the weeds out front, I've been a little obsessed with what should go in there. Some of that is self-defense: the more plants that are filling the bed, the less room weeds will have to grow, and the less work I will have to do. Mostly, though, once I start thinking about how a design (of anything, really) should come together, I can't stop until something is solid. I like to finish things.

Several days last week, then, were filled with researching plants online, wandering through local nurseries, and sitting out front staring at the dirt with a pencil, graph paper, and some tape measures. This sucked down literally hours at a time. I tried to look out the windows at it once it got dark, but that wasn't really working since it was, um, dark.  

At one of our local nurseries I was inspired by their 50% off sale on…