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Autumnal Surprise!


This fall we have truly been having a ‘golden season.’ The weather has been relatively mild, if rainy, and the usual flame of the maples was muted.

But a golden glow shone on every sunny day. But today we got rain – and a surprise.


This photo was taken around 4 p.m on Thursday.

October 27 9 p.m.

October 27 10 p.m.

October 28 7:15 a.m.

October 28 7:30 am


Apple Blossom Time

Sargent crabapple

I hope this photo give some sense of the amazing bloom of the Sargent crabapple. It is  not 15 feet tall, but it is at least 15 feet wide and was planted about 15 years ago. It thrives in the Sunken Garden even though it is very wet in the spring.  It is now in full flower – almost a single tree-sized blossom at this point.

This apple tree, name unknown, produces apples but they are not the best apples I’ve ever eaten. I do use them in apple sauce and apple pie as part of the mix.  The tree usually takes a beating from the plow when it makes the turn in front of the house.

These apple blossoms are on  the Liberty semi dwarf tree in the ‘orchard’. All apple blossoms are so lovely. I hope they were open long enough to get pollinated.  Some of our trees are beginning to leaf out.  The grass looks as though we had a big wedding today.

Black Knot on My Plum

It’s been raining for almost a week. This means the conditions are good for the spread of black knot.

Plum tree with black knot

We have slowly been removing the plum trees from our orchard and the time has come to take down the last tree.  I loved the occasional harvests of Stanley plums which I mostly canned, but I think we will just content ourselves with the three semi-dwarf apple trees.

Black knot gall

This gall, one of several, is about 6 inches long and a little more than an inch in diameter.  I don’t know how this disease got a toe hold because there are no wild trees in the vicinity, but obviously once disease began, it has continued to spread.  The first galls can be quite small and difficult to see, but they don’t take long to grow. We have cut out and burned the galls as they appeared, but we never succeeded in eradication. Over time the tree weakens, the gall grows, and there is no cure but removal of the tree.

Apple blossom

We will remove and mourn the plum tree, but I will concentrate on the apple trees that are just beginning to bloom.

The First Snowfall

October 22, 2010 7 am

I’m not sure if this really counts as the First Snowfall for Garden Bloggers, but snow surely did fall out of the sky last night. Yesterday around noon – all of a sudden – the sky turned black and the wind whipped up the leaves to such an extent that I could hardly see across the drive. Then slush fell out of the sky for five minutes. The weatherman called it hail, but it didn’t do the kind of damage that hail usually causes.  New England weather!

Frank the cat

It all confused Frank.

So, do I have anything else to celebrate this snowy morning? Yes.

Torso by Katie Winship

Yesterday afternoon I stopped in at Artspace on Mill Street in Greenfield to see 1 in 8: The Torso Project. This was inspired and organized by Pam Walker, a breast cancer survivor and program director of Forest Moon, a non-profit that provides free and low cost workshops and retreats for people touched by cancer.  Cancer survivors, or their friends, or their family, made plaster casts of their torsos and decorated them. Katie Winship celebrates the fruitfullness of her friend with this piece that includes apples nestled in the old bra of her friend. Although many of the torsos depicted the scars of the survivor, they were the scars of battles won, of strength and courage.

Torso by Wendy Sibbison

This torso was made by my friend Wendy Sibbison. I have known Wendy ever since I first came to Greenfield in 1971. I met her at meetings of the newly formed Women’s Center that occupied space above Barrett and Baker. Wendy was full of fire and energy, of the strength and courage that she celebrates in this torso. On one breast she has attached the chains that we were all trying to shed in those days – along with our bras. On the other breast, the beauty and hopefullness of women is celebrated when faced with a life threatening disease.  Wendy was an inspiration to me back when I was trying to get my feet under me in my new life in Greenfield, and she remains an inspiration to me today as she serves as an attorney fighting for justice. The exhibit will run until November 12, Monday through Friday from 1 – 6 pm.

Ellen Villani

I was also just in time to attend Soup and Sass with Ellen Villani. I met Ellen in 1971, too, but she was about nine years old, our across-the-street neighbor and good friend to my three daughters. Ellen was always a strong personality, and she now puts her personality and her sense of humor in service of the arts. She is a member of the Artspace Board and for the past seven years she has performed Soup and Sass as a fundraiser for Artspace Projects. This year the money went to Strings for Kids in the Schools, a program that provides instruments, music, and instruction free of charge to about 125 third, fourth and fifth graders  in three of Greenfield’s elementary schools.

Ellen had us all in stitches as she talked about her experiences with spanx, bras, and her annual physical, but there was a deep silence as she asked the question: what would it have been like if 33 women had been trapped in a mine for two months?  She hardly had to say anymore before we all burst out laughing again. But she had plenty to say and she said it.

Did I mention that along with the fabulous Ellen there was also fabulous soup, bread, cheese, wine and sweets?  Why is it that people who love the arts always love good food too? Lucky for us.

Fall’s Fruitfullness

Lots of people in Heath have an old apple tree or two. Sometimes the apples aren’t beautiful, but they certainly can make good eating. I’ve been using the generous harvest from this unnamed tree to make apple sauce and apple butter.

Apple butter and apple sauce (L-R)

French toast with apple butter or apple sauce makes an easy  and nutritious breakfast.

Black walnuts in their hulls

My neighbor called me to say he and his wife had collected three big buckets of black walnuts from their two back yard trees. They had never gotten a harvest like this. Usually the squirrels got what nuts there were. So, they didn’t know how to handle the nuts, but they knew they could stain hands badly.

Black walnuts hulled

I didn’t really know how to handle them either, but I knew it was hard work. I found out that Iowa State University had good directions, and slightly humorous, on their website. If you want to know what to do with your black walnuts, click here.

Black walnut with its split hull

After putting on good rubber gloves and  three hours of splitting the hull, pulling out the shelled nut, and scraping away ‘stuff’, then washing the nuts, and setting them out to dry, my neighbor gave up. The other two buckets are up for grabs. Not for the squirrels.  In two or three weeks, when the nuts are dry they will get out their little sledge hammer and shell them. According to Iowa State University they can be kept in the freezer almost indefinitely.

Grapes climbing an old apple tree

The dark tangle is the grapevine, with many grape clusters, that is climbing an old apple tree. I can’t get a good photo but the grapes are climbing at least 15 feet or more up the tree.

Wild grape cluster

The grapes are not very big, although there are a lot of clusters within reach. They are not terribly sweet. Will that change if we get a hard frost this weekend?  And of course, there are the thick skins and big seeds.  What to do? What would you do?

That’s my Three for Thursday – apples, black walnuts and grapes.  To see more threes visit Cindy over at My Corner of Katy. Thanks for setting this up, Cindy.

Eating Together

The Sunday New York Times Magazine devoted their whole 10-10-10 issue to Eating Together.  Well, the previous weekend the Heath Gourmet Club celebrated its 29th anniversary — 29 years of serving ourselves.  Michael Pollan wrote about the 36 Hour Dinner Party that he enjoyed with famous chefs and his son in Napa, consuming a whole goat and a lot of really good produce and olive oil. They also had the pleasure of cooking in an outdoor ‘cob oven.’  Thirty-six hours of cooking and eating with a convivial company does sound like a lot of fun, but when I consider how much fun we have had over 29 years I know that I am blessed.

The Gourmet Club was formed on July 4th in 1981 when Sheila (pictured above with her foot in the air cast)  and I and Catherine (who passed away several years ago) met in the town museum bewailing the lack of good local restaurants – not that any of us could afford to give them our custom anyway. So right there, we decided to form the Gourmet Club and we planned our first dinner for September. We were all busy with the Heath Fair in August, so September was to be our inaugural meal. The plan was simple. We would take turns hosting; the host would set the theme and make the entree. Other courses would be assigned the other couples.

We hosted that first meal. The menu was modest, A Simple Summer Supper with Soupe au Pistou.  The 289 meals since then have sometimes been simple, sometimes complex. We have indulged in French, Moroccan, German, Russian, Tex-Mex, California, African, Clam Bakes, and Spanish themes – among others.  We’ve had presidential meals with courses out of a White House cookbook, a Stuffed menu where every course was stuffed featuring the magnificent Turducken, a chicken stuffed inside a duck inside a turkey. Never once was there a disaster. At least not one any of us would admit to.

Fruit Chips

I can only think of one dinner where I couldn’t eat a course – and we made it. For some reason we all wanted Mock Turtle Soup and, as it happened, Henry was in Baltimore where they have the rare ingredient for Mock Turtle Soup.  Henry was down at the seafood wharf and directed to a little old black man who knew the secret – ‘rat.’  Muskrat that is.  And so, Henry hand carried two muskrats back home in a cooler and made the soup. I could barely watch. Those little heads with their beaver-like teeth coming out of the pot were too much for me.  But everyone else had soup spoons at the ready.

There have been picnics, a tea party and a brunch held during an ice storm. We set out in our Rabbit, but slid into the ditch at the side of our road before we had gone 300 yards. We called Sheila and she said she’d pick us up in their Volvo.  It took 400 yards for her Volvo to slide into the ditch. We called her husband, Budge, to get us in his pick up.  We made it to the host house, but as you know, only two people can fit in the cab of a pick up.  Henry and I and our basket of fruit cups squatted in the bed of the truck while the ice continued falling out of the sky.

We have celebrated all the local food we have used in our meals from the berries, herbs and vegetables from our own gardens, our own chickens and eggs, our own pigs, our own goat milk and cheese, as well as local beef, cream, apples, and cider.

Of course, the Gourmet Club has experienced more than food in 29 years. We have had two divorces, two deaths and one wedding. The wedding couple met at Gourmet Club!

Most of us spend a lot of time eating together at big family get togethers, and at parties. There are intimate lunches with a friend, or tea on the terrace or the nightly supper with spouse and children. The food doesn’t have to be fancy, but it is important. It is a symbol of the love and care we bear each other, nourishing and strengthening in ways we cannot measure. So, with the NYT, I celebrate the joys of Eating Together.


The first unpleasant surprise was frost!  The 7 am temperature on our thermometer on the north side of the house, but in the sun, said 42 degrees and I rejoiced. But my husband brought in the cat’s frozen water dish from the welcoming platform. The first shock. Then I went out to open our ad hoc cold frame and the inside was all frosty. I’d better mark this frost date in my Journal.

Jewel Black Raspberry

The second, and final, unpleasant surprise of the morning was finding one of the 10 newly planted and mulched black raspberry plants dug up. Who would do that? The deer have munched the hostas, but there’s not much to eat on a new ‘black cap’.  I will have to rush out and replant this, but I fear the roots may have dried out beyond reviving.

Rangoon rhododendron

Fortunately there was a pleasant surprise. The Rangoon rhododendron’s buds are preparing to open, as are the buds on Boule de Neige.  A tiny red primrose was also blooming this morning. I haven’t been paying very much attention to this bed next to the Cottage Ornee, but I got here in time. Buds of the tree peonies are swelling. It won’t be long.

Beauty of Moscow lilac

The reason I bought Beauty of Moscow is because the fat pink buds are just as beautiful as the big double white flowers. I bought this lilac locally from the Shelburne Farm and Garden Center several years ago.

The lovely blossoms on this ancient apple tree next to the Cottage Ornee are no surprise. The Cottage was sited to nestle between, and almost under, this apple tree and a large high bush cranberry (virburnam), both of which suffered terribly in the Ice Storm of 2008. Yet it still blooms, full of grace and determination.

All Kinds of Apple Trees

View from the kitchen stove

When we first moved into our old farmhouse in Heath in November of 1979, I cooked in what the previous owners called ‘the summer kitchen’ although there was no other kitchen. It was small and oddly shaped because of the stairway that went up to a loft/attic space. The 1930s era stove was on the north wall next to a small window that looked up the hill, across the field to an old apple tree.

When the wind blew through the many drafty windows, that first bitter winter the view out the kitchen window was not inspiring. But, in the spring, when the apple tree burst into glorious bloom I remembered all the reasons we had moved to the country.

We don’t actually harvest many apples from the tree on the hill. One visitor said it might be a Baldwin, and Baldwin apples were a common variety in our area. When you drive through town you can still see the remnants of old orchards, and the promise of one new orchard growing a whole variety of apples.

I no longer look out of that particular window when I am cooking, but the view to the north is one of my favorites in the spring.

Apple trees bloom early in the season and are welcome and valuable for that very reason. We planted some dwarf apple trees that are now about 15 feet tall. We planted heirloom varieties as well as Freedom and Liberty, disease resistant hybrids. Only the Liberty and Freedom survived tenants we had one year. They had horses, and the horses seemed to be very fond of romping beyond fences and of apple bark.

I confess that we have not taken very good care of the surviving trees which is a tribute to their hardiness and disease resistance, the very reasons we chose them. Liberty and Freedom produce medium sized red apples that ripen in September and are good for eating and cooking.  Given good conditions they can be stored for up to five months. We harvest too few apples to store, but we get some good eating.

A friend gave us a Sargent crabapple, a small ornamental tree with good disease resistance, which we planted in the center of the Sunken Garden about 15 years ago. In the spring the tight red buds make the tree seem to blush; when the flowers open the tree is a cloud of blossom. I have not pruned it to the spare sculptural shape that many people manage, but it remains a small tree not much more than eight feet tall with a spread of twice that. It produces tiny red fruits that are of no use in the kitchen, but the birds like them.

Sargent crab May 2009

Even though I do not  rigorously control the tree, it takes a lot of pruning. I do what I consider a radical pruning every spring, but there is more to do the following spring.  They can be given another pruning in summer if you wish, but I haven’t done that.

Sargent crab, like other crabapples, is not fussy. It needs full sun, but the soil can be heavy or loamy, acid or alkaline. It prefers well drained soil, but my Sargent crab thrives in a very wet spot.

The Sargent crab is a small crabapple, but there are many other beautiful crabapples most of which reach a height of between 15 and 25 feet. They bloom in many shades. SugarTyme is one of the most popular of these ornamental trees. It has white spring blossoms, green foliage and red fruits.

Royalty crabapple is notable for the deep reddish foliage and dark red flowers, while Red Splendor has reddish foliage but pink blossoms and red fruits that do not fall off the tree. No litter.

Profussion is a larger tree, reaching a height of 25 feet, with at least as wide a spread. The flowers are purple-red  with bronze-y green foliage. As you might guess from its name, this variety is noted for the profusion of bloom.

For those who like the grace of a weeping tree there is Red Jade. This crab grows to 12 feet and just as wide – a lovely pink umbrella of a tree that bright red fruits in the fall.

If you are looking for a crabapple that you can actually eat, Whitney is the choice. Whitney’s one to two inch fruits are yellow and red, perfect for making jelly or a spiced pickle.

One stunning way to use crabapples would be as an allee, planting them on either side of drive or road. Here in New England we are aware of the beauty of magnificent maples along old roads, a kind of municipal allee. Allees of large deciduous trees, or graceful birches have been used on great estates leading up to stately homes. I think an allee planted with a humbler tree, a blooming tree, is a beautiful way to lead up a long drive to a house in the country.

Allees remind us of the power of massing a single plant. That power is all the more dramatic when you are talking about trees.

Whether you want fruit to eat, food for the birds, or a big spring bouquet, there is an apple tree for you.

Between the Rows  April 24, 2010

Wonderful Winterfares

Northampton Winterfare

In the February/March issue of Organic Gardening magazine, Gordon Hayward who gardens in Vermont, talks about our ‘food shed.’ I know about watersheds, that protect the quality of our water, and was amused when I heard people talk about their ‘view sheds’ the landscape view they enjoyed from their house, but I had never heard the term ‘food shed.”

However, aware as I am of the 100 mile diet, I should have realized the term put me on familiar ground. Hayward quotes Cornell University’s definition of food shed as “a geographic area that supplies a population with food.”

With all the recent talk about national security, especially airport security, there is not so much talk about ‘food security.’ Fortunately, because of our food shed, we in this region are enjoying substantial food security; we could feed ourselves very well indeed, even if there were some catastrophic event that kept the refrigerator trucks from California making it all the way to western Massachusetts.

This blessing of this security was brought home to me last year when I attended the Second Annual Winterfare  Farmer’s Market at Greenfield High School. It is one thing to have a garden and even know that the farmstands are full of wonderful fresh produce in the summer and fall, but I was amazed at how much fresh produce is available locally during deep mid-winter. Granted, many of the farmers were selling frozen meat, potatoes, squash and all manner or root crops like beets and carrots which can be harvested in fall and stored properly for use during the winter, but some farmers had beautiful lettuces and other greens that are such a luxury during the winter.

I could hardly carry away my share of the bounty which included not only vegetables like tender greens from Red Fire Farm, but Clarkdale apples and cider, Hillman Farm cheese, El Jardin bread,  Warm Colors Apiary raspberry honey, and Real Pickles. Our food shed is varied and delicious.

Seeing so many people giving of their time and energy to put on this terrific event made me determined to do my share this year. Whether you attend the Northampton Winterfare today from 10 AM to 2 PM at Smith Vocational School or the Greenfield Winterfare on Saturday, February 6 at Greenfield High School I will be on hand to demonstrate the growing of sprouts.

Sprouts are the most local of food crops. Mine grow on the counter next to the kitchen sink.  To increase my experience with sprouting  I sprouted wheat for the first time. When I visited Cliff Hatch, and his daughter Sorrel, at Upinngil during the summer I bought a couple of bags of wheat berries. They have been waiting patiently for me to learn to make wheatberry salad, and this workshop prompted me to try sprouting them. I even bought  a hemp and flax Sproutbag at Green Fields Market to expand my horizons further.

The information sheet that came with the Sproutbag said that it was better than a Mason jar for sprouting wheat and other grains as well as beans. And here I thought I was just doing my best for the consumer economy.

I will bring my sprouted wheat bread to Winterfare, along with salad sprouts in Mason jars in two different stages for those who may not be familiar with the process and not realize how easy it is.

The magical thing about sprouts is that in the process of sprouting the nutritional value of the seed shoots up, increasing the amount and number of vitamins A, B complex, C and E. The amount of protein and fiber also increase. What is not mysterious is that none of this nutritional value is lost because it develops on the kitchen counter and is eaten in that same kitchen. There is no nutritional loss as when vegetables are shipped from far away, and of course, no gas or oil are used for transportation.

My presentation is only one of several presentations being offered today. There will be information about canning, how to store root and other crops for winter use, how to make your own nut milk and how to make cheese.

Those who have a surfeit of jam or any kind of good produce can bring them along to the barter session.

CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) is a sponsor of Winterfare. Logon to their website, or  for full details. I hope to see you there – or in Greenfield.


I heard from Daniel Botkin after my article about Laughing Dog Farm last week. I said that his goat bedding and manure could be used fresh on the garden and didn’t need to be composted like my chicken manure. Goat manure is not hot like chicken manure but he wanted to make this clarification:: “The goat manure, although it is more readily usable for organic gardening (because 1.) it is pelletized 2) it is pre-mixed with hay and 3) it breaks down much faster than most, more dense, anaerobic “slop” manures), it is still not safe around ripening food crops and never goes near any edible or soon to be edible plant parts when fresh. I do apply it fresh around trees, shrubs and as sheet mulch on fallow, non-edible landscapes.”

Thank you, Daniel.

Between the Rows   January9, 2009