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Seattle Fling 2011

Garden bloggers meet in Seattle in 2011

Pondering Pickles and Other Preservation Techniques

 

Canning Display at Franklin County Fair

Canning Display at Franklin County Fair

Harvest season is upon us. This is the reward of summer-long labors. I’ve been talking to neighbors who are canning dilly beans and corn, making peach jam and drying herbs. One neighbor is seeing what she can rescue from the late blight that is hitting many tomato patches in the area. Harvest time can be hectic when so much produce is coming in at the same time.

I don’t do much canning any more. I depend more on the freezer, and a cold closet where I store winter squash. However, this week I tried out a new recipe for a turnip and beet pickle from my Ottolenghi Jerusalem cookbook. Delicious, and I don’t think I will have any trouble finishing the jar within the month – as recommended.

I always admire the canning display at the Heath Fair and the even bigger display at the Franklin County Fair. Those sparkling jars of beets, tomatoes and corn, of relishes and jams glowing with color and flavor are so inspiring. I am reminded of all the canning my Aunt Ruth did back in the 40s and 50s, turning the basement into Ali Baba’s cave. I also remember hot summer days and making sure I stayed out of the steaming kitchen with its bowls of produce and boiling kettles.

Preparing for the Fair and reading about the root cellar workshop that was held at the Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield last weekend (unfortunately I was not able to attend) I got to thinking about the many ways food has been preserved over the ages. It is all very well to invent agriculture, but even that will only take you so far. Winter comes and the fields are covered with snow. How did the ancients preserve food?

One of the oldest methods of preserving food was drying. Dried grains have been found in ancient Egyptian and Chinese tombs. Most of us don’t dry grains anymore, but it is easy to dry beans and store them for the winter. I know people who air dry apple rings, and others who now use dehydrators. The skill of drying food has come a long way since 3500 B.C. when all you had was the sun and breeze, to the 21st century when you can have a little electric dehydrator on your kitchen counter.

Once fire was invented drying meat and fish took on the extra dash of smoking, adding an interesting flavor to the drying process.

Fermenting was also an early food preservation technique that resulted in the happy invention of beer and wine, but also the fermented milk drinks of Asia. We must also remember that when Johnny Appleseed was making his rounds his apple trees were intended to make cider. Hard cider. Fermented apple juice. Cider could be much more reliable than water for safe drinking in those days.

It is interesting to think how the ancients learned the rules of fermentation, and how to control the process for ever better flavor. In fact for every development in food preservation there must have been careful observation, and perhaps deliberate experimentation to make these techniques work dependably. They may not have come up with any ideas about the microbial action that caused spoiling, but they could observe that certain actions kept food edible for a longer period of time, as well as adding new flavors.

Pickling was also invented and used in ancient times. The first pickles were a product of fermenting. Real Pickles in our own neighborhood uses the ancient techniques of fermentation to make their array of pickles. I also have friends who make their own sauerkraut, another fermented food.

Most of us these days use vinegar to make our dilly beans or bread and butter pickles, or chow chow relish. When was vinegar invented? First you needed wine, but the discovery that spoiled wine could be useful was not far behind. Legend has it that 5000 years ago the Sumerians used vinegar as a cleaning agent as well as food preservative and condiment. Caesar’s armies drank vinegar and hot and thirsty 17th century colonists drank switchel, water, vinegar and a sweetener like honey, or maple syrup.

Heath root cellar - end of season

Heath root cellar – end of season

Another of the simplest ancient ways of preserving food is cooling, as Emmet Van Driesche explained at the Bullitt Reservation. Here in Heath we had a Cellars and Cave Tour this past spring, organized by the Heath Agricultural Society. We got to see how several of our Heath neighbors set up root cellars in their basements without the work and expense of digging a root cellar. The trick is to maintain temperatures above freezing and below 40 degrees.

My Uncle Wally and Aunt Ruth had a big root cellar on their Vermont farm. When we bought a house in Maine there was a root cellar set up in the basement, equipped with rat traps. In confusion and dismay I asked Uncle Wally what I should do? “Set the traps,” he growled. We never used the traps or the root cellar because we moved to New York before the harvest was in.

Nowadays my own food preservation activities are limited. We hardly heat our upstairs (I require a cold bedroom for sleeping) and the guest room closet works well for storing cured butternut winter squash. There is the freezer for green beans and berries. Obviously I am lucky that I am not dependent on my own labors for fruit, vegetables and condiments to feed me during the cold season of winter.

Are you putting by any of your harvest?

Between the Rows    September 6, 2014

Bountiful Bouquet of Roadside Weeds

Bouquet of Roadside Weeds

Bouquet of Roadside Weeds

A bouquet of roadside weeds. My roadside. Quite lovely, don’t you think. Two kinds of aster, blackeyed susans, lots of goldenrod, tansy and a bit of a cheat – red highbush cranberry (Viburnam) berries and some rugosa rose hips. Mother Nature must love us a lot to give us these beauties in such abundance.

View from the Bedroom Window – August 2014

August 11, 2014

August 11, 2014

A cool cool August. That means the grass grows really fast, even though there hasn’t been any rain to speak of.

August 19, 2014

August 19, 2014

This has got to be one of  the coolest Augusts ever. Nighttime temperatures in the 50s – and often taking a long while to warm up. The one rainfall came all at once. Torrents amounting to 2-1/2 inches on August 13.

August 26, 2014

August 26, 2014

The Lawn Beds don’t change very much, at least from this angle, but the field beyond has become more and more golden as the goldenrod comes into bloom. The weather remains cool.

Franklin County Fair – Int’l Year of Family Farm

Roundhouse - Franklin County Fair

Roundhouse – Franklin County Fair

The Franklin County Fair is always a celebration of family farms and gardeners. This view from the balcony gives only a hint of the perfect produce, creativity and business acumen of local farmers and gardeners.

Red Fire Farm at Franklin County Fair

Red Fire Farm at Franklin County Fair

Red Fire Farm is just one of the area’s most successful small farm, a testament to farmer Ryan Voilland’s farming skills, but also his people management and business skills.

Youth cattle judging at Franklin County Fair

Youth cattle judging at Franklin County Fair

The dairy farm is not yet dead in Western Massachusetts and these young people are keeping ideal of the family farm alive. Those are Ayrshire heifers. Beautiful Ayrshires are a rugged cattle breed suitable for our climate, efficient grazers and milk producers.

Youth sheep judging at Franklin County Fair

Youth sheep judging at Franklin County Fair

Sheep have long been a farm crop in this part of Massachusetts. These youngsters are keeping that tradition going. Our farms produce food AND fiber.

The United Nations has named this the International Year of the Family Farm to highlight the importance of the family farm all  around the world. It is easy to understand the importance of local food security, even here in the U.S., because of the vagaries of extreme weather. Family farms are also vital to rural community development. In our own area we are lucky to have CISA (Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture) supporting family farms

 

You Could Be a Master Gardener

Master Gardener Judy Gatland

Master Gardener Judy Gatland photo Jessica Schultz/Hitchcock Center

Over 200 Master Gardeners are volunteering their knowledge and energy up and down the PioneerValley. You might have called upon them to test your soil at local Farmer’s Markets, or found them answering questions at the Big E in Springfield and the Little E in Greenfield, or working at Wisteriahurst in Holyoke, the Bridge of Flowers in ShelburneFalls, or various community gardens as well as at other locations. I am personally grateful for the three Spring Symposia they arrange every year that bring inspiring speakers, and knowledgeable workshop leaders to get us all ready for the growing season.

Where do these Master Gardeners come from? Have they studied for years at educational institutions? Or have they learned everything they know in their own little garden? Neither! Some may have taken biology or horticulture classes somewhere along the line, and have some experience in their own gardens, but it takes 60 hours of classes on every subject from soils, composting, annuals and perennials, lawns, pruning shrubs and trees, pesticides, native plants and other topics between January and April. These classes are taught by faculty from the University of Massachusetts and Mt.Holyoke and Smith Colleges, and other local experts like Eric Toensmeier, author of Paradise Lot and Perennial Vegetables.

Ron Kujawski who retired from the UMass Extension Service will be on hand with information about diagnosing plant problems and pruning. For those of us who can’t attend Master Gardener training he has also written an excellent book, Week by Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook, with his daughter Jennifer. I am so appreciative of this book which is useful to new and experienced gardeners.

Judy Gatland of Sunderland had always been interested in gardening and cared for perennial beds around her house, but with family and work as a computer systems analyst she didn’t have the time to devote herself to a large garden. Then came that happy moment when she retired. Gatland wanted to learn more about gardening, and she wanted to share her new knowledge.

“I had a couple of friends who were Master Gardeners, so I vaguely knew about the program, but it was when I saw a notice in the newspaper that I decided to sign up. It was the idea of educating other gardeners that really appealed to me, she said. “I found they don’t need people with a lot of horticultural information. They want people who are willing to learn and willing to share – to go out and talk to people at Farmer’s Markets and places like that.”

One of the places Gatland has found to share information is the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. “I love being on the Bridge; it is so beautiful. And I really enjoy talking to the visitors on the Bridge. They come from all over the country – and all over the world. Most of their questions are pretty basic and it feels good to be able to answer them.”

She also works in the Butterfly Garden at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst. This garden which supplies nectar for the butterflies, and the Caterpillar Garden which supplies food for caterpillars have been tended by the Master Gardeners, and others, for nearly 20 years.

Gatland explained that after the 60 hours of training and instruction, interns are paired with an experienced Master Gardener for the 60 hours of required volunteering. New Master Gardeners aren’t sent out alone. “I felt so inadequate when I began my volunteering, but it is OK to say I don’t know. There is also a telephone hotline and now that so many people have smart phones it’s easy to call back with an answer pretty quickly.”

The Master Gardeners of Western Massachusetts will have a booth at the Franklin County Fair. This is a place for questions. You can ask them questions, but they might have some fun questions for you too.

Would you like to be the one answering garden questions? Applications to the program are due by October 1. You still have some time to get ready for new friends and rewarding work.
Tuition for the course is $300 and by completing the training in one growing season, a candidate qualifies for a rebate of $75 on the course. For more information about the course and class experience and to download the application materials, visit the website http://www.wmmga.org/class-of-2015. For further inquiries or to receive an application by mail, please call Laura at 413-743-7976 or email laura.dumouchel@gmail.com. Applications are due by October 1, 2014. 

Between the Rows   August 30, 2014

Five Things to Love About Blueberries

Highbush blueberries

Highbush blueberries

There are more than five things to love about blueberries, but these are my top five things to love.

First blueberries are hardy and really easy to grow, especially in Heath where the soil is suitably acid. Blueberries require a pH between 4 and 5.5. I never tested the soil in the berry patch, but my highbush blueberries are  healthy, big and productive. And have been for 30 years. This year I am getting a bumper crop. Blueberries need two cultivars for cross pollination, and two or more cultivars can spread ripening time over a long season. Nourse Farms near us offers a dozen cultivars from very early like Patriot to mid season like Blueray and Bluecrop to  late season like Jersey. Just remember if you are going to get a good crop you will need to net the patch, something to consider when you are planting them. Mine grow in a line, but I do think a square of berry bushes is easier to manage. It is tough to get  a net over  a 30 foot row of bushes. And make sure you aren’t wearing any buttons while you wrangle that  black netting.

Two. Blueberries don’t all ripen at once and they hang on the bush happily for a few days until you can get out and pick. Nor are they susceptible to damp or rain like raspberries that need to be picked every day in season. Blueberries are very considerate of  busy gardeners.

Three. They are incredibly nutritious. They are not only rich in Vitamins C and K (important in blood clotting) they are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants  protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals (oxidation) that thus possibly setting the scene for disease. Blueberries are among the foods highest in antioxidants – and so delicious. A list of these foods shows  the wisdom of the motto Eat Your Colors.

My blueberries

My blueberries

Four. Blueberries are easy to preserve. Just pop them into a freezer bag and into the freezer. My own blueberries come in over a long season so it is easy to  always have fresh blueberries on hand, but I also buy a 20 pound box of local lowbush blueberries every year. It takes me about half an hour to put them in bags and into the freezer. Naturally, I also have many berries of my own to freeze.

Five. Blueberries are delicious. You can eat them out of hand or in your breakfast cereal. Fresh or frozen you can use them in pancakes, muffins and pies. You can combine them  with peaches, plums or raspberries in a colorful and delicious summer fruit crumble. We eat a lot of summer fruit crumble. Have you grown blueberries?

What’s Blooming on September 1 at the End of the Road

Thomas Affleck rose

Thomas Affleck rose

What’s blooming on September 1? As we acknowledge that even though it isn’t officially autumn, we notice the days are shorter, and a maple or sumac branch here and there has begun waving scarlet in the sunlight, the bloom goes on.  Thomas Affleck is the only rose, as usual, that has much to show at this time of the year, although there is a stray blossom here and there on the Rose Walk. The ruogosa hips are ripening.

Garden phlox and more

Garden phlox and more

This section of the North Lawn Bed is closest to the house. The garden phlox is putting on quite a show. Echinacea, Russian sage, and bits of lobela and dianthus are also still blooming.

Garden phlox and more

Garden phlox and more

In the middle of that bed more phlox is blooming as well as chelone, liatris, and The Fairy rose. Unseen is the blue toremia, my favorite new annual this year.

Helenium 'Mardi Gras' and phlox

Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’ and phlox

In the end of the bed Helenium “Mardi Gras is blooming with Phlox “Blue Paradise’, I think. I hope the Montauk daisy will bloom soon.

 

Yarrow, phlox, hydrangea

Yarrow, phlox, hydrangea

A bold yellow yarrow, a bit of phlox, aconite, a small annual daisy, toremia (again invisible) bloom in a tangleat the end of the South Lawn Bed.

Robustissima Japanese aneomone

“Robustissima” Japanese anemone

The Japanese anemone is just beginning to bloom, next to a small Joe Pye weed. The deer dined off this clump, but with a little luck I will still see a good show.

"Ann Varner' Daylily

” Ann Varner” daylily

The Daylily bank is pretty well done, but “Ann Varner” is bravely facing the end of the season.  Other bloomers, bee balm, Achillea ‘The Pearl’, potted cuphea, geraniums, and Love Lies Bleeding.

What’s blooming in your garden as we begin to feel the turning of the season?

 

Weeds in My Garden

 

nettles and jewelweed

Nettles and Jewelweed

Weeds. The weeds are thriving in my garden. In the middle of August when we are getting ready for the Heath Fair there is no longer even a pretense that I am keeping up with the weeds. This week I am resolved to begin a major weeding.

One friend I met at the Fair said she had given up weeding for the season and would worry about it next spring. I understand the feeling, but there is a benefit to weeding in late summer and fall. As I walk around the garden I can see the weeds setting seed. If I can pull those weeds now before the seeds disperse I can reduce the number of  weeds sprouting in the spring.

I made a little catalog of the weeds in my garden this fall. To begin with, in the corner of the Potager, behind my two compost piles are giant nettles and jewelweed. These are two of the most easily identified weeds. People learn to identify stinging nettles pretty quick, after only one or two run-ins.

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) spread by rhizomes and by seeds. A double threat invasive weed. It is growing beyond its typical 6 foot height by the compost piles because nettles need good soil. Fortunately, they also make good compost fodder. They are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and nitrogen. Cut up the tall stalk and put them in your compost pile. Or you can make a fertilizer tea by chopping up the stalk and putting them in a pail, weighting them down and filling the pail with water. Put them aside for two or three weeks then use dilutions of this tea as fertilizer in the garden.

You can also make a tea for yourself from a couple of nettle leaves. Don’t let it steep too long or it will be bitter. I haven’t ever eaten nettles, but they are edible and can be used much as spinach is. I’m saving that experiment for another day.

Jewelweed

Jewelweed

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), which is often found growing near nettles, is recognizable because of its spotted golden orange flowers and the milky juice from its tender stems. Jewelweed got its common name from the way that water beads up on its leaves, not because the flowers look so jewel-like (to me) in the sun. It thrives in sun or shade, and spreads by seed. Some people grow it on purpose! It is very pretty.

Butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to jewelweed. Children, parents and hikers like jewelweed because the juicy sap relieves the itch of nettles, insect bites and poison ivy. Native Americans had all kinds of medicinal uses for jewelweed.

Jewelweed is easy to pull up, and it can go onto the compost pile, although it will not add quite the nutritious wallop as nettles.

Milkweed has been getting lots of attention recently because it is an important food source for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. The Monarch population has been under siege for a number of years because of the loss of its tropical habitats. We used to have great clouds of Monarchs visit the end of the road where we had large stands of mint in the field. Mint is a nectar source for the butterflies. When hoping to attract butterflies we have to remember that we need to provide foliage for caterpillar food and nectar plants for the butterflies themselves.

I did see some butterflies on the milkweed blossoms this year, but only a lone Monarch or two anywhere in the garden or field.

I sacrificed my sugar snap pea bed to milkweed this year. We do not have a lot of milkweed in our fields so I thought I would let these milkweeds grow and then I would take the ripe seed pods out of the garden and release the seed in the fields. Next year I want to eat sugar snaps.

The pale green milkweed seed pods are fat and pretty, as is the silky floss that carries the seeds on the wind. That floss has been used to stuff pillows and mattresses. When we lived in New York City I did some research on herbs at the big New York Library on Fifth Avenue. It was there I found a book that said during World War II there was a shortage of material to stuff life jackets for sailors. The government turned to people in the country to collect milkweed floss as a substitute. It seems that milkweed floss is six times as buoyant as cork!

Galinsoga

Galinsoga

Hairy galinsoga is another rapacious weed in my garden. This is an annual weed that spreads by seed, and can actually seed several generations in one growing season. My excellent book, Weeds of the Northeast by Richard Uva, Joseph Neal and Joseph DiTomaso, says “it is one of the most difficult to control weeds of vegetable crops. . . . usually found on fertile soils.”  Well, I’m glad it’s presence in my garden indicates that I have fertile soil, but I have it growing in the vegetable garden, and most especially in the herb and flower beds.  Galinsoga is erect with branching stems, ovate, toothed leaves and tiny five rayed petals around a yellow disk. A single plant “can produce up to 7500 seeds.”

Galinsoga is listed on the online Invasive Plant Atlas so I throw the galinsoga into the compost pile and so far I haven’t found anyone with anything good to say about this weed.

I have lots of other weeds in my garden, lady’s bedstraw, pigweed, burdock, wild mustard, and more, but I prefer not to think of them today.

ALERT and CORRECTION 

My column in The Recorder last week got many responses, from people who couldn’t believe I let my nettles get so out of control (they have since been pulled out) and others who just wanted to commiserate and talk about their own weeds. I also got a warning Saturday morning from my good neighbor Rol Hesselbart, known locally as the Garlic King. He said no one should ever put galinsoga on their compost pile. Galinsoga seeds are so vital that they will not be killed by the composting process because most compost does not get hot enough. Then wherever you use the compost it will carry all those still vital galinsoga seeds. I have taken his advice to heart, because he knows his weeds as well as he knows his garlic. I now have a Weed Pile near the Burn Pile. We must all pay attention. Do you think he is angling for the title of Weed King?

Between the Rows   August 23, 2014

Bridge of Flowers in August

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls

Dahlias on Bridge of Flowers

I was walking across the Bridge of Flowers this morning and it is clear this is high Dahlia season. I don’t know the names of these varieties, but I am going to look through the  Swan Island Dahlia catalog and see if I can get names for some of these.

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls

Pink Dahlias on Bridge of Flowers

Some dahlias have a more tender hue.

China Doll Dahlia

China Doll Dahlia

China Doll is a dahlia that everyone loves.

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls

Dahlia on the Bridge of Flowers

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls

Dahlia on the Bridge of Flowers

Dahlias come in so many forms and sizes.

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls

Shaggy Dahlia on the Bridge of Flowers

Do you think ‘Shaggy’ is a dahlia class?

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls

Stone Fountain at Bridge of Flowers

After all the fire of the dahlias it is nice to have a cool place to sit .

Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls

Shade garden on the Shelburne side of the Bridge of Flowers

Leaping Fish sculpture

Leaping Fish sculpture

Before I left the Bridge I had to go and take another look at the new school of fish leaping up river on the Buckland side. Thank you John Sendelbach. 

The Bridge hosts what is essentially a joyful garden party every day of the year from April 1 to October 30. Visitors from all over the country – yea all over the world – come here to enjoy the flowers, tended by a gardener, assistant gardener, many volunteers and overseen by the Bridge of Flowers committee, a part of the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club.

Waterways – Many Ways

White water rafting

White water rafting

Our family enjoys water many ways. Exciting ways on the Deerfield River and

Paddling

Paddling

paddling peacefully on Lake Champlain.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.