Showing posts from October, 2011


Although it was a bitch to drive in and we still don't have cable, our October nor'easter wasn't too big of a deal as far as accumulation goes:

Our greenhouse hoops did okay, but the bigger one definitely needs reinforcing with a ridgepole along the top. I think we could also stand to secure the plastic better along the bottom, because the winds blew the smaller one open this afternoon. We knew this was kind of a crap job, but hopefully it's good enough to get us through a bit longer.

Here's my favorite picture from our weird weather:

This is exactly why we went to the trouble of this design. Even when nothing is growing, even in the snow, the geometry of it still looks great. I'm excited to always have an interesting view out my bedroom window.

October Snow, Redux

So the snow we were preparing for back on Wednesday night didn't turn out to be much: our cars and some spots on the grass were coated. I am happy to report that our new greenhouse tunnel, however hastily assembled, performed beautifully! We are still flush with fresh lettuce and cilantro. The cold frames also did the job, even though they are too short for much of what is in there.

No sooner do we breathe a sigh of relief than we wake up today to this:

Newburyport is right under that red line, just before the "S" in "Snowfall." So that means we are in for 5-9 inches of SNOW from a very, very early nor'easter. Wow.

As I am typing this, it is just starting to rain, but when you open the door and take a listen it's a bit tinkly sounding, meaning that it's mixed in with ice. It's supposed to turn to all snow around midnight and continue through the morning tomorrow.

So today we really raced to get some last-minute prep done in the garden. Kirk qui…

Getting Ready for Winter

As I write this, it is snowing. Check the date: October 27. That's some crazy shit right there, people.

We knew this was coming, but I have to be honest: I did not believe that forecast AT ALL. With the exception of that killed-back basil, we haven't even had a real frost yet. TV weather people up here are notorious for hyping up the forecast, so I wasn't buying it.

Until last night, when we read the freeze warning from the National Weather Service, that is. Then, like stupid summer grasshoppers, we had to scramble. So, in the dark and the cold, we went outside and managed to put it up a green house tunnel:

Kirk set up 10 foot long, 1/2-inch pvc pipes to make the hoops (four of them). Then he zip-tied another one along the top to support the plastic sheeting. The plastic sheeting is held down by scrap lengths of wood from the raised beds. This was no fun to put together in the dark of night, and it all felt very half-assed. Seeing the picture, though, makes us feel a litt…

Basil Update

Remember the day I (sort of) saved the basil? After setting it out to dry on some baking sheets, we finally completed the task of putting up the basil. What started out as three cookie sheets of fresh basil has dried and shrunken down into just this:

This is a quart jar of dried basil. There's also a fair amount of air space in that jar, because we like to put the leaves in whole (or at least as whole as possible when you're dealing with the transfer of brittle, dried leaves). We crush up the leaves just before we use them, which releases their aroma right as it goes into the dish. I'm not sure if this makes a huge difference in the amount of flavor that is saved, but we figure that the longer the leaves stay intact, the better off they are. The glass jar also helps to maintain more flavor than a plastic container, which can absorb some the essential oils that you want to save in your herbs.

The lesson here: next year we need to plant much more basil to store for the wint…

Crawling Creatures

This weekend has been kind of a bust for making any headway on that giant pile of dirt in our driveway. Contrary to the weather forecast, it's been kind of a crappy weekend: Without the sun, it's COLD. And dreary. Add to that a Halloween party and a half marathon (I'm happy to put on a costume, but the running is Kirk's thing), and motivation levels for picking up a shovel are pretty low.

So the only item of note in the garden this weekend is this guy:

Jonas found this "calwapitter" munching on some carrot leaves. A quick Google search led us to a cool caterpillar identification website, which revealed that what we have here is a (future) Black Swallowtail butterfly.

According to Wikipedia, the blue ones are female and the yellow ones are male. We also learned that these are otherwise known as Parsnip Swallowtails, because they lay their eggs in plants of that family (which is why we found ours in the carrots).

I know I have a history of larvae-squishing, bu…

It's a Dirty Job…

Did I mention that last week we got a little extra dirt to top off the remaining raised beds?

So this is what 20 cubic yards looks like after a giant truck dumps it in your driveway. We had to buy more loam because we ran out of topsoil that we saved from the excavation, but we caved and got Super Soil, which is half loam and half compost. Yes, we can get all the free compost we want at the Newburyport tree dump and mix it by hand with the loam, but c'mon … we're tired. That is a lot of extra shoveling (into the car, out of the car, into the wheelbarrow, turn it into the rest of the dirt). So we splurged on the more expensive dirt, and are loving the time and labor savings.

The best part? This is about half of what we actually still need to fill the rest of the beds. They don't make a truck that big, though, so we got as much as we could. Also, we figured since we were going to get charged twice for delivery anyway, we'd just get half for now. You know, in case we get…

Planting (and Belatedly Protecting) Bulbs

Earlier this month I got a giant box in the mail. The fall-planted bulbs arrived!

Here in all their un-planted glory are 100 tulips, 250 daffodils, and 300 Siberian squill. That's a LOT of bulbs! For a refresher, you can check out what the flowers will look like when they come up in April here.

As excited as I was to get these in the mail, it was hard to motivate myself to get them planted. The weather was actually too good to do it over Columbus Day weekend — we were out enjoying ourselves doing other things. On Monday of the long weekend, though, I finally made myself get out there and start digging, with the help of Kirk and a young friend of Jonas' (who was a quite interested and very helpful).

Daffodils need to be planted about 6 inches down, so that means driving the spade or hand trowel to the hilt. I am too cheap to buy a special bulb-planting tool that won't get much use, so this was pretty labor-intensive and kind of hard on the hands. After many bulbs were in t…

Last Week's Harvest

Now that school is back in session and I am back at work like a normal (sad) person, our harvesting is more of a weekly chore instead of a daily one. Last week's harvest:

What we have here are a LOT of green beans, three turnips that ripened late, a bowl of English peas to be shelled (in the back), and a bowl of snap peas for snacking (in the front). In the middle is a beet (kind of hidden behind the bowl of snap peas) with its greens still attached.

Lettuce, spinach, and bok choy are still gathered on an as-needed basis, since the best way to store them is in the ground outside. The cool fall weather is the best refrigerator!

Fall Blossoms: Perennial Edition

Although most of the plants in the perennial border are powering down for winter, there are a few that are still blooming — or have bloomed for the first time this season. Here are the highlights:

This is the second White-Out rose bush I planted back in August, and it is still going strong! The first one has a few flowers left, but I think it may be done for the season.

Brand new blossoms: pinkish-white chryanthemums. These were rescued from the old border and moved to a holding bed; later in the summer I moved several of the back into their new spots along the brick path. They are tall, but I put these in the front because their blooms will last into December when everything else is dead, so they should be a good distraction from dead stuff right out in front. During the summer they are pretty compact and leafy, so they don't block the view of taller plants in the back. You can see in the photo that when they open they are almost completely white, but before they open they are k…

Fall Blossoms: Vegetable Edition

We still have pea blossoms (white and purple) in the vegetable garden, and the occasional (white) bean blossom that is still going strong. Two new items from out back in the veggie garden:

The Munstead lavender I planted late has blossomed. I had no expectations of it flowering this year, and was content to catch its scent by just brushing up against its leaves (which are quite fragrant on their own). I could see it budding out for a while, and was hoping it would get to flower before frost, and here it is! It's kind of spindly this year, but these flowers are all bonus, so who cares? I'm hoping it will fill in to a fragrant mini-hedge along the entrance to our patio next year.

The second flower is an accidental one: blossoms on bok choy that has bolted. I suppose this goes to show that planting 16 heads of bok choy in one round of planting (and in each of two more subsequent plantings) is more than we can eat. Next year I'll cut that in half, but what can I say? We were …

What's for Dinner?

This week's great garden dinners?

Green Bean and Feta Salad

Plus charcoal-grilled flank steak from Tendercrop. This is a pretty summery dinner for October, but it was in perfect keeping with the amazing weather we'd been having. I cannot take credit for this recipe — that goes to my friend Carrie, who first made it for our group of friends at Wake during some evening we thought cooking would be fun. It's a life-changing recipe.

Steam or blanch a pound of fresh green beans. Blanching takes 3 minutes; steaming might take a little longer depending on how thick the beans are. Don't overcook them, because they should be still a smudge crisp — not soft or mushy. Whisk together 2 tablespoons olive oil (I like extra virgin), 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, and 1 teaspoon dijon mustard. Pour this dressing over the beans in a serving dish and toss in one package of feta cheese crumbles. You can add pepper and/or thyme to taste.

It's soooooo good. I could eat it all summer. An…

An Indian Summer Weekend

It's official: The warm weather this holiday weekend is a full-blown Indian summer. In case you weren't sure, the definition of an Indian summer is when the temperatures are above 70 degrees after a frost. I'm a bit skeptical about whether or not we had a frost last week when it was so cool at night, because I leave for work pretty darn early, and I didn't see any in our yard. But … down our street there was some light frost on piles of grass clippings, and the outdoor thermometer registered 37 degrees as the low point. That may not have produced an actual frost, but it was enough to get to our basil.

Oh, basil, you stupid, delicious, wimpy Mediterranean plant. So delightful, but so short-lived in Massachusetts. I don't think it even takes a full frost to get to it, but what we definitely had by Friday morning was some frostbite:

I am kicking myself now for oh-so-cavalierly dashing off to trivia night without covering the basil last Thursday. By Saturday, we were …

Vampire-Proofing the Garden

This week we finally got our garlic in the mail from Burpee. It had been delayed by all the rain on the East coast this fall, but now that it's sunny and 80 degrees in October, we're ready to plant it out.

We decided to put it in one if the "C"s: the northeast C, to be exact. The more I think about it, the more I think we'll need mini street signs or some type of naming system to keep straight where things are planted (in addition to the massive war room-style graph paper maps we are drawing of each bed). Anyway, we had this prepped several weeks ago:

We decided that this would be (this season, anyway) for garlic and onions. That's mostly by default, since it's ready, and garlic needs to be planted in the fall in New England. Onions go out in very early spring, so even if we decide to call it quits on soil prep this fall, we'll at least be ready for those in March.

I ordered a half pound each of Spanish Roja, Early Italian, and Late Italian. A half p…

Root Soup

Earlier this week we pulled most of our turnips. Like most people, I'm not a huge lover of this vegetable, but these were so beautiful:

Seriously, these are some perfect turnips.

Ah, but what to do with them? We always think about eating the greens, but we never manage to pick them when they are small enough — and these leaves get big, spiny, and out of control really fast. So we always end up with actual turnips.

We took our turnips and made them into a meal our family fondly calls "root soup." It's super easy and open to several variations, depending on what root vegetables you want to use. This week's soup uses turnips, sweet potato, and carrot, but you could add other root vegetables. Winter squash (like butternut) could work too.

Root Soup

1. Saute onions, garlic, and carrots (all finely chopped) in olive oil, salt and pepper until softened.

2. Put sauteed mixture in a large soup pot. Add cubed (and peeled, for the potatoes) turnips, sweet potatoes, and pota…

Happiness Is a Bucketful of Beans

Tomatoes are always the superstar of the summer garden, but we didn't have anywhere near enough time to make that happen this year. The summer vegetable we did manage to sneak into our fall garden?

Green beans! These are Blue Lake, a bush variety (meaning they don't need to climb poles or trellises, but kind of flop on the ground in a relatively compact way). We planted them the first week of August, and this weekend (two months later) we were able to harvest a whole mess of them (this bucket is about 1/4 of them). First, we had a bunch for supper, straight-up steamed and brought to the table all summery and as-is:

After supper, though, I went to work preserving them for later in the fall. These are my Thanksgiving beans, you see. I like them frozen much better than canned, and I prepped them according to the Ball Blue Book, which has never steered us wrong.

1. Rinse and drain, then snap off the stems and the little strings at the bottom (if the bean hasn't completely fil…