Showing posts from 2017

The Tiny Office Garden

Last fall I moved into my tiny office in the back yard, and this spring Kirk put up one small finishing touch: the lattice around the foundation. That means I could plant a little garden by the stairs:

This is a tough spot, because it is shaded for most of the day by the maple tree in the compost yard. Some areas get strong afternoon sun, but I would call the exposure partial shade to full shade in spots. One full shade area is along the side, where I planted hosta and snakeroot:

The snakeroot has very dark leaves, which is hard to see against the compost. Here’s a better look:

Both of these shade-loving plants should eventually fill in. They’ll also have fragrant flowers in the summer (hosta) and fall (snakeroot), so I’m hoping the fragrance blows right in the windows of my office. The hosta variety is "Guacamole," which is supposed to have a nice scent. This whole garden is about smelling good!

Around the front (which gets a little more sun) I have a pair of red dianthus p…

Battle of the Small Fruit

We have a little war going on in one of our garden beds:

This is the blueberry bed, but all those green, healthy-looking plants are not blueberries. They are raspberries, and they are taking over:

Here you can see a sad, yellowish blueberry that’s been completely overrun by vigorous green raspberry canes. These canes have jumped — or rather, burrowed — from their bed under the grass path and into the blueberry bed. 
And they’ve already managed to kill one blueberry bush entirely:

We’ve struggled with blueberries ever since we planted them, and last year we replaced several. That was the year of the drought, though, and they haven’t done well:

Though this one managed to put on some decent growth, you can see from the color that it’s not doing well. I suspect that we’ve never been able to get the soil acidic enough for them to thrive, and the discolored leaves are a sign that they are not getting the nutrients they need because the soil is too alkaline. 
We’ve worked to amend it, but …

Spring Pizza

We eat a lot of homemade pizza throughout the year, but it’s always fun when a new ingredient is ready to harvest to shake things up a little bit. 

This very green springtime pizza features a garlic béchamel sauce, asparagus, spinach and feta. It’s also garnished with lovage and some pea shoots, all from the garden (except the feta, of course). This is a great way to enjoy our earliest garden harvest of asparagus and leafy greens.
I don’t think Jonas was wild about it, but we also had plenty of regular tomato sauce pizza for him, too. We’re down to our final jar of sauce now, so he might want to get on board with white pizza for the next couple months until we have some more tomatoes. (Ordinarily we don’t run out, but the drought really kept our yields down last summer). 
If you’re looking for something different in your pizza repertoire, give this one a try!

New Year’s Resolutions, Month by Month: April

In April I continued my monthly New Year’s resolutions not by giving something up as I had for the first three months of the year, but rather by adding something. I decided to give meditation a try.
To do it, I used the Headspace app, which was recommended to me by a friend who also happens to be a professional neuropsychologist. You just load it up on your phone or iPad and it pretty much does the rest for you. 

This photo is from the desktop version, but the app is even easier. Just push the button for your session and you’ll get an introductory video to explain a concept or technique. Then the app will automatically flip to an audio page for your guided meditation. 
This was just 10 minutes per day, and it wasn’t always easy to fit in since I was away from home for two weeks in April, but I managed to catch up on the couple days I missed before the month was over. This program focuses on training to let thoughts go by concentrating on the breath and other physical sensations — at …

Playing Cat Detective

While we were on vacation, our lovely neighbors came over every day to feed Smithy and check on the chickens. When we got back, there was a half-eaten can of food on the porch so all seemed well. 
Fast forward several days, and no one had seen the cat. 
The food was still being nibbled (though not devoured), so we alternated between being nervous that he ran away and feeling confident that Smithy was lurking around but hiding. 
So by Thursday we set up the iPad to film a time lapse video of his food throughout night (which is when the nibbling usually occurred). We knew something was eating the food, but we wanted to make sure it wasn’t a raccoon or skunk (which have managed to squeeze through the cat door in the past). 
In the morning we eagerly looked over our evidence:

Did you miss it? Right around the 10-second mark, there’s a flash of...something. It goes by so fast that the kids missed it, but I slowed it down to a frame by frame:

That’s Smithy, all right! 
So why was he hiding …

Home Again

Although we enjoyed our vacation last week, it was also really nice to come home. One reason for this was that we were greeted by a green lawn and a low of colorful bulbs in full bloom:

If you have no trouble growing hyacinths, this probably isn’t that exciting to you. For me, though, these are the best I’ve ever managed to grow. This is probably due to the extra sun they’re getting, since once again, another fence section fell during the winter. 

Since these are growing in the cutting garden, I cut some to bring inside. I love the way they smell, and a little goes a long way.
The other big flower story this week is that our orange tulips are blooming:

This picture, taken on an overcast day, doesn’t really do them justice. They are a much more fiery shade in real life, which looks great against the yellow paint of the house (and will look even better once we finish that paint job). 

Last fall I planted another 100 orange Darwin tulip bulbs to replace lost ones and add to the driveway…

What I Did on My April Vacation

Last week was April school vacation week here in Massachusetts, and we used the time to take a vacation through Pennsylvania and New York. After visiting family over Easter weekend, we headed west to Lancaster County, where we visited the Moravian town of Lititz.
The town museum is housed in an old German building made of stone, and behind it is a small public garden, which you enter via a very inviting arbor:

The only flowers there right now are some new pansies since it’s still early spring, but you can see some green perennials poking up as well:

The centerpiece is this diamond-shaped bed, which for some reason I failed to center in the photo:

This is all probably quite lovely in the summer. What you can’t see is that if you keep walking through the garden, you’ll continue down a slope that goes to the small river that runs through town. 
The next day we went to the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, which has original buildings, buildings moved to the site and reproductions o…

A Sad Maple Season

This turned out to be a really strange maple sugaring season. 
We tapped the tree back in February when we had a bit of a warm-up, and at first things went really well. Afternoons were warm, and we started out with a strong run of sap.
Then it got too hot, and the sap stopped running because the temperatures didn’t drop below freezing for several nights in a row.
And thentemperatures plunged, and it didn’t get above freezing for almost a week. So still not much sap, but for the opposite reason.
Then on our final weekend of boiling, this happened:

It started as rain but turned to snow while we had the fire going. Not that big of a deal, but not exactly pleasant. But since we weren’t exactly keeping a keen eye on things, we also ended up burning a batch that boiled down more quickly than we expected.
And by last weekend, the sap had turned:

Once it runs yellow, the season is over. This sap isn’t sweet at all, so I’ve been using it to water seedlings — I’m thinking that the minerals sho…

New Year’s Resolutions, Month by Month: March

I’ve decided to write about each of my month-long New Year’s resolutions after the fact, so I can share how the whole thing went. In January I gave up added sugar; February was a major caffeine draw-down. For March, I decided to give up alcohol.

This was really not a big deal.
I’m not a daily drinker by any stretch, and mostly enjoy a beer or two with my bandmates or a glass of wine at a restaurant. 
Though, if truth be told, I had more wine that usual during the election season (entertaining) and its aftermath (not so entertaining). 

So despite the occasional hankering for an evening drink during the first half of the month, I really didn’t miss it at all. In fact, there were a lot of positives to note: Better Singing: Alcohol is really pretty bad for your voice, and when you pair it with staying up late and talking a lot, it’s a recipe for laryngeal disaster. I took the opportunity to do some real warm-ups and singing this month as well, which has been great for getting back in bett…

Chicken Trickery

The additional daylight in the spring means that the chickens begin laying again, after a sporadic winter of not doing very much. Martha and Rachel got the memo weeks ago and are going their jobs well:

Sally is also a champ. But sometimes this happens:

As you can see, Sally’s eggs has been pecked open and eaten. That blob on the floor of the nesting box shows that several eggs have been raided and destroyed over that past few days.
This is not a protein or calcium issue, as they have plenty of extra seeds and oyster shells to eat. This seems to be about spite. I caught Abigail — who, it should be noted, hasn’t laid an egg in months — pecking away at one just the other day. jerk.
Kirk and I were also talking just lat night about how Lizzy — the worst chicken — also hasn’t laid any eggs in recent memory, and how she’s generally not earning her keep at all. 
And then today I found that she had, in fact laid an egg. 
And it was eaten. Along with a couple other eggs.
Four eggs from six ch…

New Season, New Look

It’s been a tough stretch of weather, with blizzards, power outages and freezing rain, even though spring is officially here. There are a few signs, of course:

But most of the garden looks more like these tree peonies, buds curled tight and waiting out the cold:

So in the meantime, I decided to switch up the look of the blog to brighten things up. This June will be its sixth anniversary, so it’s definitely high time for a makeover. Let me know what you think!

New Year’s Resolutions, Month by Month: February

ICYMI: I decided to make my New Year’s resolutions last all year this year by working on 12 mini-resolutions instead of one big one. In January I gave up added sugar; for February, I decided to tackle something even more difficult: cutting out caffeine.

I really do love coffee, and when I was still teaching, I had quite a bit of the stuff — truly necessary fuel for someone who had to get out of bed at 5 a.m. every day and be stuck in traffic for close to 90 minutes each morning. 
It was not fun, but at least I always had a full — large! — travel mug of coffee in my hands to make the commute bearable.
Fast forward to this February, where I found myself six months into my new life working full time from home. I had somewhat cut back on the coffee just by using a regular mug instead of my double-sized travel cup, but now that I have been allowed to let my body decide when to wake up — emphatically not before the sun comes up — I no longer actually need  caffeine.
But I do still like to …

New Year’s Resolutions, Month by Month: January

This is a very belated post, but I did something different with my New Year’s resolutions this year. Instead of one big resolution, I decided to try 12 limited-term resolutions instead — one per month of the year for 2017. This seems like enough time to build a new habit — experts say it takes three weeks — but not so long that you’re deprived of something forever. It also offers a chance to pause and reflect to see if that new habit is one I actually want stick with or not.

The last time I talked about a New Year’s resolution on the blog, we ended up cutting $20,000 out of our annual spending, so I am expecting some interesting results — and success — with these mini-resolutions as well.

To play a bit of catch-up...

January: Giving Up Added Sugar For starters, I opened 2017 by giving up added sugar from my diet. After a long holiday season of lots of eating and drinking — and a whole lot of sweets! — this was a significant change. For my purposes, added sugar meant sugary drinks, des…

Homemade Nutella

Have I ever mentioned how much Tiegan loves Nutella?
Probably not. She’s kind of obsessed. I mean, I think the stuff is alright, but she would eat it all the time if we let her. (Note: We do not. It’s crazy expensive, and there’s a ton of sugar in it.)
Anyway, a couple weeks ago she got her hands on a recipe and gave it a try, since Kirk inexplicably brought home a bag of hazelnuts from the grocery store — and then had to buy a nutcracker to shell them. (None of this passes Trim the Fat Tuesday muster, by the way.)
Anyway, she had fun doing it, and it did turn out pretty well. You could modify the recipe to make it somewhat less sweet, I suppose. The end result isn’t as smooth as what you buy in the store, but I kind of like her slight chunky version better.

To make it, you’ll need to crack and shell 1 cup’s worth of whole hazelnuts (measured after shelling, not before). Then you blitz them in a food processor and add 1 cup of powdered sugar. Blend again and add 1/2 cup cocoa powder.…

The Owl on Kent Street

Throughout the summer and fall, on quiet nights after everyone else had gone to bed, I would swear that I could sometimes hear the hooting of an owl in the trees on the hill behind our house. I never actually saw an owl in our yard, of course, because they are so stealthy and secretive. I wasn’t even sure if I could trust my ears, but this area is full of interesting wildlife, so I figured anything was possible.
I have been proven right — on the possibility, at least. There’s an owl in Newburyport for sure.
Kirk came home from work at the hospital last week with a tidbit about there being an owl in a tree in the park down Kent Street. (I live in a town where the juicy gossip is about bird sightings, it seems.) 
We figured we’d check it out between snow storms, and here he — or she — is:

Newburyport and Plum Island are major destinations for serious bird watchers, so there was group of people gathered to see this owl. Many came prepared with serious telescopic lenses and binoculars, a…

2017 Seed Inventory

Somehow this task escaped us last year, but usually once the garden planning is done, we go through our seed inventory and decide what we need to stock up on. At this time we also choose new varieties to try or seek out more of the same if something did well.

Once the seeds are ordered and arrive in the mail, we sort them by type and store them in a plastic box in the fridge, where they keep very well in the cool, dry conditions.

For reference, here’s what we chose for 2017:
The Driveway Quadrant
Pole beans: Cherokee Trail of Tears Pumpkin: Small Sugar Pie Squash: Butternut JWS 6823 and Spaghetti Squash Cabbage: Red Express and Hybrid Storage Green Cucumber: Northern Pickling and Marketmore 76 Peppers: Ace bell pepper, El Jefe jalapeño, Baron poblano Eggplant: Galine Cilantro: Cruiser Head lettuce: Green Forest and Buttercrunch  Corn: Sugar Buns Broccoli: Arcadia Parsnips: Javelin Cauliflower: Snow Crown
The Workshop Quadrant
Cherry tomato: Sungold Zucchini: Dunja or Fordhook Cantaloup…

2017 Master Plan: The Patio Quadrant

The final planting quadrant is also the smallest, because it lacks the center C that the others have in favor of a patio area for picnicking. It also has a full bed of strawberries along with existing perennial plantings of roses, rhubarb and lavender, so there aren’t many areas left to fill.

Across the top row is garlic that was planted back in October. When this is harvested in July, it will be replanted with winter green like arugula, bok choy and turnips. The remaining section has Paisano paste tomatoes. 
Along the right side is a short trellis of snap peas, which will shade a patch of mesclun and other spring greens. Right now this is the site of our winter cold frame of mache and spinach, so our plan is simply to interplant the mesclun with these plants in early spring and gradually remove and replace things they bolt throughout the season. There are also both winter and summer carrots close to the house, where they can handle the shade that creeps in during the fall.
There’s a…

2017 Master Plan: The Swingset Quadrant

The section of the garden near the swings is always on the easiest to plan. It’s reliably sunny, but two large swathes are already spoken for, with asparagus along the left side and grapes and herbs across the top. 
To the right will be Brussels sprouts and a row of fennel bulbs, along with a large bed of leeks, which hopefully do better this year. Along the bottom is a trellis of peas and a row of Amish paste tomatoes for saucing. 

In the center C are beets, chard, okra, and potatoes. 
And that’s it! This section is full of big plants, or big patches of some of our favorites, so it’s just not very complicated — which is a nice change of pace.

2017 Master Plan: The Workshop Quadrant

Working our way around the garden, we come to the workshop quadrant. I guess we could also call this the office quadrant, since it forms the bulk my view during the day. Here’s what I’ll be gazing out at when I’m procrastinating:

In the center C are celery and parsley, zucchini, cantaloupe, and a Sungold tomato plant. The Sungold, celery, and parsley are partially shaded, which should be fine. It should help slow the ultra-prolific Sungold down to a manageable harvest level, and celery and parsley will do well with some shade in the summer anyway.
Across the top, as always, are our perennial grapes and herbs. In the upper portion of the right side is a succession planting of dill. This is the shadiest section of the garden, but dill is basically a weed and will do fine here. Below that is a semi-shaded section that will lie fallow for most of the season until we plant next winter’s spinach and mache in a cold frame.
Across the bottom is a long trellis of peas and a row of vine vine t…

2017 Master Plan: The Driveway Quadrant

It’s that time of year again! We’ve been a little slower than usual to get the garden plan done this winter, as we’ve been driven to distraction by current events. Still, we finally finished that work today, and leek and onion seeds have already been started. Here’s hoping that the spring will bring the goodness and light of things growing and being nurtured in your corner of the world, too.

Starting in the center C, you can see dots that indicate the spots where PVC pipes will be inserted for pole beans. We’re doing the bean house again here! Around the outside is a traditional companion planting of squash and pumpkins. 
Across the top of the top bed is a long row of trellises cucumbers, both pickling and slicing. We’re going all in on these this year, since last summer’s drought left us with just one cucumber for the whole season. Behind the cucumbers will be bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, head lettuce, and a few succession plantings of cilantro.
To the right is a large block…

Cold Winter, Hot Toddy

Hot toddies have come my way several times this season, and I must say, I’m a fan. I wrote about them for a client in an article about warm cocktails, and discovered then that there are lots of ways to make them. In general, think of the tea you’d drink to soothe a cold, and add a shot of liquor – you know, for comfort. 
I was served one at a Christmas party that was lovely. It was, I think, based pretty closely on Jamie Oliver’s hot toddy recipe, but with the addition of some ginger to the general mix of honey, lemon, and spices. 
This week I have been struggling with a killer head cold, so I took the opportunity to make a hot toddy for myself. 

First, this hip retro mug was originally Kirk’s grandmother’s. She was a nurse, and everyone on her floor had one – the back has her shift hours.
Next, I made this with a mug of herbal tea, a slice of ginger, and a wedge of lemon studded with a couple cloves. The tea had a fair amount of stevia in it already, so I skipped the honey. In the f…