Showing posts from May, 2014

Filling In the Gaps of the Perennial Border

When I wasn't at the ball fields for the kids' baseball games this past (long) weekend, I finally was able to tackle a project I'd been meaning to get to all spring. The weather decided to cooperate (mostly), and I buckled down got to work on updating the perennial border. 
The harsh winter we had wasn't at all kind to some of our perennials. Several plants that normally wouldn't have trouble overwintering died back to just a few scraggly stems, or bit the dust completely. Some casualties included both artemisia, some stonecrop, the carnations, and most of a heucherella (if you're really interested in the evolution of the border, you can scroll through previous posts about it to see just what I'm talking about). This left me with some holes to fill this year, which I did my moving some existing things around and buying some new plants.

My hatchback full of plants include a white peony ("Mrs. Edward Harding"), three white salvia ("Snow Hill&q…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The In-Town Transportation

Summer is coming, and warm days have finally returned to our neck of the woods. This is the perfect opportunity to save a little money (and enjoy ourselves while doing it!) by
Eliminating in-town drives for six months of the year.
The six months I am proposing are, of course, the snow-free ones: May 1 through October 31. We can count on half of the year here to have reasonable weather for walking and biking, and the whole family has quality rain gear to get through the wet days. In fact, our kids walk to school every single day, in all kinds of weather, so it's only fair that the adults get on board with this too. 
Our town is small, and end to end it's only 8.7 miles, or a 45-minute bike ride:

We live conveniently right in the middle, so no single ride in-town is likely to be more than 20 or 30 minutes anyway. 
So all those baseball practices, piano lessons, and errand runs that are in town? We're walking or biking there for half the year. 
I should mention that, as a tea…

Celery and Parsley Results

This year, for the first time, we started celery and parsley from seed. That was back in February. Here's where we are today:

Looking good, right? 
Alas, I cannot take credit for the sudden lush growth of our celery and parsley seedlings. These are all transplants that we had to go out and buy to replace our pitiful ones.
So what happened? Well, for starters, celery and parsley are notoriously difficult to start from seed. We managed a quick germination, but from there on it was very, very slow growth. They were still super-tiny in April, and died shortly after I planted them outside in early May.
I'm not exactly sure what happened. We've been dealing with cutworms big-time this month, so that's a possibility. We also had some critter issues this spring. Fletch dispatched with a couple rabbits, and Kirk took out a groundhog with a lucky throw of a baseball bat (there's actually more to it than that, but I'm going to spare you there Game-of-Thrones-esque detail…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Insulation

Remember how we had a home energy assessment back in April? Well, in addition to all the free lightbulbs, they also offer some serious discounts on another way to save money by lowering energy costs. We took advantage of the offers to

Air-seal and insulate the house to lower our home heating costs.

Part of the energy assessment involves the representative from MassSave inspecting your home for insulation — they run the furnace and measure heat loss, scout out the drafty spots, etc.

Turns out our century-old house has no insulation at all. This explains why we're so miserable (even inside) when the wind blows, and why we pay through the nose for our heating, despite our willingness to keep our programmable thermostat set pretty low during the winter.

Because Massachusetts is a totally awesome place to live, they offer a nice subsidy to encourage homeowners to insulate their homes. It’s good for the environment, good for homeowners' wallets, and good for local contractors. If yo…

Of Cabbages and Cutworms

Although we were very good about fencing the cabbages this year to protect them from hungry skunks and groundhogs, it turns out something else has been eating away at them:

See the way those leaves are clipped off right at the bottom? At first I wasn't sure what was going on, because of the insect damage further up the leaf, but that nibbling at the bottom is a classic sign of cutworms. We have dealt with them before, and there's just nothing more disheartening than watching your tiny transplants (especially ones you raised from seed over the winter) get mowed down overnight.  Half of our winter cabbages were beyond saving: 

As you can see, I suspected cutworms earlier, and used a yogurt cup with the bottom cut out as a ring around it to keep the worms at bay. That was too little, too late for this plant, though. Time to try a more drastic remedy before we lose all of the cabbages.
First, we dug up our remaining plants and temporarily moved them to an unused bed:

When I did s…

Scenes From a Springtime Dinner Table

Now that things are growing in the warm sun, we are enjoying some seasonal delights at the dinner table. We have tulips from the cutting garden:

Tulips rather notoriously lose steam after their first year, and ours are no exception. Many did not re-bloom, and the ones that did are smaller than they were last season. Still, we have enough to keep up a bouquet on the dining room table, and that's enough to brighten things up indoors.
Asparagus season is in full swing! To keep it from getting out of hand, Kirk turned several large bunches into 
Cream of Asparagus Soup
4-5 scallions, chopped 3-4 cloves garlic, minced 2 Tbs. olive oil 2-3 large bunches of asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces 1/2 to 1 cup cream Salt and pepper to taste  fresh tarragon for garnish
1. In a large stock pot, sauté scallions and garlic in olive oil.  
2. As you cut asparagus into pieces, add to the pot and allow to sauteé while you continue chopping. 
3. Cover with water and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. 

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Rain Barrels

Just like last week, this week's post has to do with conservation. It's not just good for the environment — it can save you money, too! This time we're going to 
Use rain barrels to collect water for garden irrigation.
Last summer we bought (but, pathetically, didn't actually use) three rain barrels from the Great American Rain Barrel Company. The City of Newburyport has a partnership with them to offer residents a subsidy for rain barrels, and the result is that we get them for about 60 percent of what they would otherwise cost. They are really great quality, and come with a net and lid to keep mosquitoes at bay, plus a tap to access the water for use in the garden. They are also available in green and grey, but we chose brown:

Kirk put the barrels up on cinder blocks (which you may recognize from our maple sugaring fire pit) so that we have some space to fill a watering can. 
Each barrel has a screen held in place by a lid:

The lid has a lip and several drainage holes…

Perennial Update

Although most of our garden is devoted to growing annual vegetables, we do have several beds set aside for some perennials that come back every year. It's nice to have some (mostly) worry-free crops that just do their thing without much attention: Just add a compost top-dressing in the spring and enjoy the bounty. Here's how our perennial fruits and veggies are faring this year. 

Our strawberry patch is three quarters of the way planted. The Tribute strawberries in the foreground were our first plants, and they are now in their third season. The lush patch in the middle are last year's Honeoye planting, and the dark compost section in the background marks our newly planted Seascape strawberries. 
I have to say, I'm not that impressed with the Tribute strawberries. Their flavor can be kind of tart for straight eating, and the plants have not bounced back from this winter very well. In another couple years it will be time to replace them, and we will probably try a diff…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Light Bulbs

Back on Patriot's Day, we didn't just watch the marathon and enjoy the gorgeous weather. We also had a long-overdue energy audit done on our drafty old house.

Turns out that we have a lot of room for improvement, starting with

Replacing incandescent lightbulbs with more energy-efficient choices.

If you live in Massachusetts, it's super-easy to sign up for a home energy assessment online. It's sponsored by the local energy companies, so all you need is your most recent electric or gas bill, and you're good to go. The Mass Save program will send out a technician to go through your house and figure out all the places you can improve your energy efficiency (and save money).

After testing your heating system and scouting out all the drafty spots, they also offer you free lightbulbs to replace all your incandescent bulbs.

That's right, free light bulbs.

If you don't think that sounds like a good deal, you probably haven't been light bulb shopping in a while. …

Grilled Aspargus

After a very busy week (Did I ever mention that I directed the kids' play this spring? Well, I did.), we enjoyed a lovely springtime dinner. Asparagus is back, people!
And in case you didn't know, the best way to eat it is grilled. And that is very easy to do.
Step one: brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt:

Step two: grill for 2 minutes. Just 1 minute per side will do it:

Use real charcoal. It's way better than a gas grill, if you care about things like flavor.
Step three: Eat it up, preferably with some grilled steak tips and herbed rice:

Such a delicious, springtime treat. Incidentally, Kirk marinated the steak in soy, ginger, and garlic. The rice has butter, thyme, and some scallions for flavor.
It is so, so good to have spring herbs and fresh, green vegetables to eat again. Welcome, May!