Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday Muse

I am slowly reading my way through the vintage gardening book, Gardening on Nothing A Year, by Mary S. Griffith. Each chapter begins with a poem and peppered throughout the book are these very sweet little sketches.

The poem that precedes Chapter IX is today's Monday Muse...

A Perfect Lady

I knew a girl who was so pure
She couldn't say the word Manure.
Indeed her modesty was such
She wouldn't pass a rabbit hutch;
And butterflies upon the wing
Would make her blush like anything.

The lady is a gardener now,
And all her views have changed somehow;
She squashes greenfly with her thumb,
And knows how little snowdrops come;
In fact the garden she has got,
Has broadened out her mind a lot.
--Reginald Arkell

Of course, this is not a practical look for any gardener, but I think it makes a cute accompanyment for the poem! Oh, to be sooo stylish in the garden -- though the heels would surely be hazardous!

In reality, I wake up very chipper, which is fortunate because I hit the ground running...let the dogs out, make the coffee, run outside to let the geese out before they wake the neighborhood, come back inside, feed the dogs, feed the cats, THEN I get to pour a cup and perhaps drink it before it gets cold -- sigh! THEN, it's out to the garden to give it a morning drink...dressed in whatever happened to be handy enough to throw on!
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Refurbishing Shea's Herb Garden

When I got this house, one of the first things I did that following spring was put in an herb garden. The perfect bed was already there, just in need of some SERIOUS attention -- it was totally overgrown with crab grass! But, it had a lot going for it since it spanned the length of the side of the house, was about a foot wide itself, and received great sun because it faced due south. I battled and battled with that crab grass to get the bed ready for planting!

The herb garden sprang to life over Mothers' Day weekend, 2001. I had three dogs at the time: Dallas (whom I still have); Taylor, my collie (now deceased); and Sheamus (my Bouvier des Flandres mix). I recall that the weather was just gorgeous! Dallas and Taylor were on teathers enjoying the shade of the maple trees in the front yard. Shea, who tended not to roam and who couldn't run too fast if he did, was content to hang out with me while I planted.

We had a great weekend at the beach house and went home to Pennsylvania on Monday. The next day, Shea stopped eating and refused to get up. I knew he needed serious medical attention. To make a long story short, it took four very strong neighbors to lift him in a blanket and get him into my van. He ended up at the emergency room of the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital in Philadelphia. Despite their wonderful efforts (I can't say enough good things about that place!!), sadly, Shea didn't make it.

However, since I had that last great weekend with him "helping" me plant the herb garden, it is still fondly referred to as Shea's garden, in his memory!

This rosemary plant was one of the originals in that garden. In actuality, it has grown over the years into quite a large shrub that has been cut back, shared with others, and has added wonderful flavors and aromas to my cooking. When I say large, this is an understatement. It could easily be seven feet in length and nearly five feet tall -- no exaggeration! This winter, however, half of the plant has died! So, I got out the pruners last week and clipped off as much of the dead wood that I possibly could. The remaining plant is still quite large and hopefully, will be OK. I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Unfortunately, this was not the only garden casualty. My two chive plants did not return this year! In addition to using them in my cooking, I find the flowers to be quite lovely! So, a rootbound chive that has been making its' home in a container for quite a number of years was finally freed from constraint! I used a hand saw to slice through the dense roots and made several plants out of one. In fact, ever thrifty, I bartered a piece of chive plant with my neighbor, Laura, in exchange for a zucchini plant!

Now, I have pruned the rosemary, replaced the chives, and have added in a French tarragon plant. Otherwise, the sage is stalwart (like the rosemary, I can use it all winter), and the oregano is coming back nicely. I'm not too sure about my thyme plants (I plant the English and lemon varieties), but I have a spare ready to plant, as I use a lot of this over the summer. Basil -- my other summer staple -- should be able to be planted in a week or two.

Like vegetables, one can never have too many herbs...So, I have had this idea fermenting in my brain all week about wrapping the herb garden around to the front of the house! Stay tuned -- that's a whole other post!

Gotta go...dirt beckons!
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My Burpee Live Plant Order Has Arrived!!!!

Package in the mail today -- no mistaking that it was from Burpee when it said "Live Plants Inside"!! When I placed my order a few weeks back, I specifically asked the customer service representative when my order would be delivered because, very shortly, I will be going on vacation to Cape Cod (yea!). I certainly didn't want my live plants arriving while I was gone! She said they would arrive around April 20th. They came today, on the 21st -- close enough! I have always had good luck ordering from Burpee. The plants have aways arrived healthy, but then, my location in Virginia is about four hours away. Native Pennsylvanian that I am, I like supporting a company from whence I hail (Burpee is located in Warminster, in the eastern Philadelphia suburbs), even though I live elsewhere now.

My order consisted of tomatoes and peppers.

For tomatoes, I chose the Burpee Heirloom Taste Collection, which includes: Brandywine (I love the large, beautiful leaves); Black Krim (so pretty and tasty); Big Rainbow (new to my garden); and Supersteak (ditto).

The catalog describes Big Rainbow as "yellow streaked with scarlet", 85 days, indeterminate. The fruits are large -- 16+ ounces! Supersteak is also indeterminate, 80 days, and described as "the original 'giant' with beefsteak taste and meaty texture. The fruits are huge at 32+ ounces. Yum!

My taste in peppers has evolved over the years, from favoring the mild to the more spicy. Now, DO NOT expect me to eat a habanero -- I will NOT! But, I am now more receptive to heat.

I ordered 3 plants (this is what you had to order) of Tangerine Dream, considered a sweet pepper, with three inch fruits and having some heat at the stem end. This will be my perfect "popper" pepper, stuffed with some spicy pepper Jack cheese, drizzled with olive oil and roasted in my oven! So good...

My next choice was Ristra Cayenne Hot Hybrid Pepper(also, three plants). Who could resist a plant that is a "super producer" of peppers that are a foot in length? They are billed as good drying peppers because of their thin walls. I love this, because I can use them fresh when harvested, freeze some, and dry them, to crumble into chili in the fall and winter!

OK...the problem is I need to get busy and clear out the rest of the garden to get these babies planted!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What I am Growing Today -- Artichokes!

Last week, while driving home from Virginia Beach, I stopped at a little garden center called "Bloomers". When passing by before, I always had one excuse or another for not stopping -- in a hurry, it wasn't planting season -- you know how that goes. But, it was a gorgeous day and their display of lush, green plants was enticing me to stop. So, I did. My dog was in the car (coming back from the vet's) but it was wonderfully breezy, so I lowered the windows to let him enjoy it. He didn't seem to mind, as he was sleeping peacefully in the back seat!

Almost immediately, I gravitated to the artichoke plants! Anything with large, toothy grey-green leaves is bound to get my attention. Looking down, this is what I saw...doesn't it seem as if it has a little baby face, eyes closed in slumber? Perhaps I have an overactive imagination, or am just a glutton for a sweet new plant! Home, it came (along with some French tarragon and thyme).

Years ago, when my garden was new, I tried to grow globe artichokes. The plants were very young and didn't last through the winter, despite mulching for protection. However, at some point, I noticed the neighbors behind me were raising some in their tiny, but very sweet garden (mostly flowers and herbs). Hmmmm....that must mean they can be successfully grown here!

The plant I selected is at least a two-year old plant, or it would not have a bloom. Hopefully, this might mean that it is a bit sturdier than its' predecessors. From my research and past experience, it should do well in our sandy soil, as long as it is watered sufficiently. I will plant it in a spot where it will get a bit of shade from our hot summers and a break from the wind in the winter.

For the record, Santa Cruz, California, is regarded as the globe artichoke capital of the world. Brought to the area by Italian immigrants, they thrived in the temperate climate of the area. The edible portion of the plant is actually the immature flower bud, and we actually eat the thick base of each flower bract, in addition to the heart or base. If not harvested, the bud will bloom into a thistle-like flower (artichokes are closely related to thistles). In areas with a longer growing season than mine, the plant can be cut back for a second harvest.

Wish me luck!
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Proven Theory!!!

In my post, dated March 27th on Succession Planting, I noticed that many blog writers were commenting about the absence of tomatoes in the White House Garden. Based on my observations of the plot, I posited that what was publicized at the moment was the "Spring" garden -- minus tomatoes, because it was too early to plant them in D.C. at the moment. I gave full confidence that tomatoes would be present in the "SUMMER" garden.

Tonight, on the national news, President Obama exercised the new First Dog, Bo, on the White House lawn and made this quote: "Portugese Water Dogs like tomatoes...Michelle's garden is in trouble!"

Sounds as if there are definite plans to have tomatoes in the garden. Hence, a proven theory!!! Should be able to plant them up there in a few weeks!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday Muse -- II

This is the poem that is inspiration for this week's Monday Muse:

The Country Store

Far our beyond the city's lights, away from din and roar,
The cricket chirps of summer nights beneath the country store;
The drygoods boxes ricked about afford a welcome seat
For weary tillers of the ground, who here on evenings meet.

A swinging sign of ancient make, and one above the door,
Proclaim that William Henry Blake is owner of the store;
Here everything from jam to tweed, from silks to ginghams bright,
Is spread before the folk who need from early morn till night.

Tea, sugar, coffee (browned or green), molasses, grindstones, tar,
Suspenders, peanuts, navy beans, and homemade vinegar,

Fine combs, wash ringers, rakes, false hair, paints, rice, and looking glasses,
Side saddles, hominy, crockery ware, and seeds for garden grasses.
Lawn mowers, candies, books to read, corn planter, household goods,
Tobacco, salt, and clover seed, horsewhips and knitted hoods,
Canned goods, shoe blacking, lime and nails, straw hats and carpet slippers,
Prunes, buttons, codfish, bridal veils, cranberries, clocks and clippers

Umbrellas, candles, scythes and hats, caps, boots and shoes and bacon,
Thread, nutmegs, pins and Rough on Rats, for cash or produce taken,
Birdseed, face powder, matches, files, ink, onions and many more,
Are found in heaps and stacks and piles within the country store.

--Author Unknown

Growing up, I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House on the Prairie" books and the TV series, too. This poem reminds me so much of the Olsen's general store. This is where the townfolk went for every day needs, traveling to the larger city only a few times a year perhaps.

I suspect that everyone has known a store like Olsen's or the one in the poem at one time or another. For me, it was O.W. Houts & Son, referred to by those who knew it simply as "Houts", located in State College, Pennsylvania, where I lived while I went to graduate school. This little grocery stocked local produce in the summer, had the best coffee (a blend I swore by called Scandinavian), wonderful fresh meats (cut to order, if you so chose), and little gourmet treasures for the creative cook! The attached store was like an old fashioned mercantile, a veritable treasure trove of the unusual and hard-to-find!

Sad to say, Houts is now closed. I suspect its' demise was linked to the arrival of the Wegmans grocery store chain and others to the area. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Wegmans and make a beeline for it when I go back home to Pennsylvania for a visit. Although I don't get back to State College that often, I was devastated to hear the news. Why couldn't they coexist? It had a very loyal following, or so I thought. Tragic to lose this little gem!

How many other little gems like this have been lost? I think shops like this harken back to a time when communities depended upon themselves and were self-contained. I am very heartened, though, that the slow foods movement seems to be taking hold with the popularity of Barbara Kingsolver's book and others like it. It's wonderful that people are trying to be more frugal and self-sufficient in other aspects of their lives as well. I am all for a resurgence of this type of lifestyle.

I live on a small island five miles offshore, connected to the coast by a causeway and a series of bridges. It is 13 miles to the highway and "civilization", so to speak. However, the mainland is still very rural and has only just begun to be touched by "development" as many areas know it. The nearest "urban sprawl" is an hour away -- and I like it that way.

On our little island, though, we have our own little community of merchants that I try to support on a daily basis. We have a few book stores, a great wine & cheese shop (Hi, Kathy!), a pharmacy, a hardware store, several fishmongers, and so on. Even though I have my own vegetable garden, I am a weekly visitor to our small, but loyal, farmers' market. I can buy fresh Chincoteague oysters from my next door neighbor, who is a waterman. Our little island grocery store is lacking in some areas (like its produce), but this is where I buy most of my meats.

The constraint of geography has made me a more local consumer and I am glad for it. For those of you who live in more urban areas, my message with my Monday Muse is next time you are on your way to a large chain store, search out the little gems in your area instead. Support you local businesses, run by people like you and me who are trying to get through these tough times, too!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Worm Wars!!!

Quite suddenly, my geese have developed a taste for protein! Their favorite meal du jour?



Let the battle begin! This might get ugly!

How did it start? I will tell you...Ordinarily, the geese swim in a large plastic kiddie pool. However, once it got colder and the water began to freeze, the pool was likely to crack. So, instead, I picked up two large rubber basins to use during the winter months. They proved to be low maintenance and they had an added benefit...their wet bottoms attracted worms. Beautiful, fat worms for me -- or, I should say, for my garden!

Now it seems that the goose girls are on to me. When they see me changing their water, it's as if I have sign hanging over my head that says "FREE LUNCH!!!"

It's unfair! It's two against one! They can wolf them down faster than I can pick them! However, I would not be a good goose mom if I didn't let them have a FEW, right? They need a balanced diet and if that includes protein...

I have a solution! To paraphrase Marie Antoinette..."LET THEM EAT SLUGS!!"

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Spring Garden Up-Date

It's always so exciting to see new life in the garden, when you realize that the seeds you have planted have germinated and have begun to grow! I was so amazed by this the first year I had my garden -- and I never grow tired of it.

My shelling peas (Alaska) have poked through the earth and are an inch or so long. If I look very closely, I think I see something starting in the carrot (Nantes) bed. I have diligently kept these moist because if this is what carrots like (they do), then this is what they will get! All of my transplants are doing well: leaf lettuces (Salad Bowl and Red Sails); a nonspecified type of romaine; Swiss chard (Bright Lights); and a nondescript mesclun mix (called "European").

In between the lettuce and mesclun transplants, I have scattered seeds. Thus far, the arugula is the most productive. Not so much for the red lettuces (Outredgeous and Silvia)! Likewise, no sign of life for the beets, chard seeds (Lucullus), or the dandelion greens for the geese.

However, most of all, I am excited because I have finally seen life in the fava bean section! Five daring little shoots have pushed through the ground at this point -- eight more to go, if I am to have 100% germination. We shall see! I've heard they can be temperamental. Keep your fingers crossed!

About half the garden is planted at this point. The other half still needs to be cleared -- and I need to get busy because I anticipate my tomato and pepper live plant order from Burpee very shortly.

But, wait -- oh, no! What about the beans, the cukes, the Brussels sprouts, the edamame, the bok choy? The gardener's perpetual dilemma -- what if there's not enough room to plant all that I want? Somehow, I suppose I will find the room -- or expand my garden!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday Muse -- Thanks to Esther!

It's amazing how some things just fall into place when you are looking for inspiration -- like finding my little frog yesterday.

Recently, I began reading a blog I found on Blotanical called Esther's Boring Garden Blog, written by Esther Montgomery in the UK (It's anything BUT boring, by the way). Today, she mentioned that many garden bloggers apparently follow a tradition called Monday Muse, whereby they post a poem on that day.

It just so happens that I am reading a vintage gardening book called "Gardening on Nothing a Year" written by Mary S. Griffith and published back in 1937. There, when I turned the page to Chapter IV, I found my inspiration! It begins with this poem, written by Christopher Morley:

My Favorite Flowers

The yellow orchid why discuss,
When you can eat asparagus!
What stained-glass window could repeat
The red-veined leafage of the beet?

What delicately mottled green
Is in the humble, honest bean,
And what a balm for sin and grief
The crisp and curly lettuce leaf!

The corn, in green, translucent files,
Shimmers like cathedral aisles,
The cabbage that the frost has touched
Is like a pigeon's throat unsmutched.

An onion, if you hold your nose,
Is marvelous as any rose!

What a wonderful little poem! Vegetables ARE my favorite flowers at this point in my gardening life! And this is my Monday Muse! Thanks Esther!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Someday, My Prince Will Come...

Just not today, apparently!

This morning, I was out in the garden. It's an endless cycle of spring cleaning, planting, more cleaning, then more planting...on and on. A gardener's work is never done -- especially this time of year.

As I lifted up a pile debris, I felt something squishy. Presuming it was a worm or a slug, I was pleasantly surprised because there, in my hand, was the tiniest of tiny baby frogs!

Down into an empty bucket he went, while I ran in the house to fetch the camera. He cleaned up well, I thought, and he very sweetly posed for a picture.

So, I kissed him and when he didn't turn into my handsome prince, I sent him on his way. I suppose he was just an ordinary frog or toad! Oh well, hopefully, he will not hold it against me that I disrupted his safe haven and will return and eat lots of bad bugs in my garden!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Eggs, Cracked and Scrambled!

My last post featured a photo of an egg laid by my goose, Phoenix. As promised, here is a photo of the same egg, only in its "raw" state, next to the chicken's egg for comparison.
There is absolutely nothing like the gorgeous deep orange color of a fresh egg! Can you believe the size of the goose egg yolk? They are also so incredibly thick and require a good strong whisking to mix them up. No wonder they are excellent in baking!
Oh, and the egg shells themselves...rock solid, not too easy to crack. That's because the girls just GOBBLE UP the pulverized oyster shells I give to them as a digestible source of calcium, which is much needed during laying season. Perfect for composting in the garden later.

This just made me just chuckle later: Did you notice that the pattern on my Polish pottery dish just happens to look like fried eggs? I swear it wasn't planned! It must have been subliminal!

Of course, since I cracked the eggs open, I had to use them, I added one more goose egg in for good measure and scrambled them up. As mentioned last post, they are a bit too rich for me to eat like this -- and, believe me, I have tried. So, in this case, they were enjoyed immensely by my dogs and cats!

So, my message to everyone is: If you haven't tried a fresh egg -- I mean a really fresh one, right out from under the bird -- whether it is from a chicken, goose, duck, guinea hen, please do so! You will never want to eat any other!

(P.S. -- Thanks, Heather, for your tips in how to post more than one photo!)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Goose Eggs!

One look at this photo and I am sure your mouth has hit the floor! What you are viewing is the comparison of a goose egg (obviously, the larger one) with a large chicken egg, with my hands in the background to provide some size reference! I know! The first time one of my geese laid an egg, my reaction was, "THAT came out of HER!!!!!!" I couldn't believe it! Ouch!

Those of you who have read my earlier posts will already be familiar with my two female domestic geese named Sydney and Phoenix. If this is your first view of my blog, of course, I would love it if you would back up a few posts and read about them. But, if you don't have a chance to right now, just read along and I will catch you up!

Syd, the Chinese goose, started laying first, in November. At that point, I didn't know if the geese were male or female. When she became fixated about lying under my central air unit's stand I suspected she was nesting. Sure enough, her first time out, she presented me with two beautiful eggs (yes, she laid two at once) and, obviously, I knew she was a girl. Geese typically will lay every other day, and she settled into this pattern right away. It was short-lived, however. After Sydney laid her fourth egg, somehow -- like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack -- she found a nail in my yard and swallowed it! At first, I didn't know that's what happened. I just knew that something was wrong because she wasn't herself; she literally didn't want to move. Talk about guilt, thinking I had my yard so well goose-proofed! It actually was a very old nail and had been there, hiding in the grass, for quite some time.

To make a long story short, I credit a wonderful vet -- Dr. Herbert Hulls of Pet Care Veterinary Hospital, in Virginia Beach, Virginia -- with saving her life. An x-ray showed that the nail had literally impaled her gizzard. This was actually a stroke of luck because the gizzard is such a solid organ and is the size of a fist in a goose. It could have ripped so many things on the way down, but miraculously, it didn't! Listen to this: as Dr. Hulls was discussing options with me, Syd walked over to where I was sitting AND PUT HER HEAD IN MY LAP!!!! It was as if she was saying to me, "Please, please give me a chance!" Of course, I did! Who says that animals are stupid -- not me!

A five-inch incision later, Syd survived the surgery. I have the nail in a jar for posterity! Since her feathers needed to be shaved away, she had to board at the vet's for two months because it was now cold. If you have ever seen a raw duck breast, that is what the area looked like! Even though I live in the South, our winters can still be quite chilly. She wouldn't have been able to regulate her body temperature once her "down coat" was stripped away.

Her antics at the vet's are very humorous and will undoubtedly be the subject of another post! (A preview: she actually was bold enough to chase and "goose" a Rhodesian Ridgeback! You know, those dogs who hunt lions! It ran from her!).

Sydney resumed laying a few weeks later while still hospitalized. Back to Phoenix, the African goose: I always thought she was a girl, but when she didn't lay right away, I began to think I was mistaken. Not to worry: when I noticed that her hind end looked fuller, something I noticed right before Sydney started laying, I began to reconsider. Sure enough, in late December, she laid her first eggs -- two at first, just like Syd.

Since that time, Phoenix has been Ms. Consistent and has laid an egg every other day. Syd has been a bit more sporadic in her laying habits, which I suspect has something to do with all she has been through.

Now, about the eggs! They are just gorgeous! In another post, I will crack an egg open and show you their "inner" beauty (I am still unsure how to post more than one photo on my blog template). Unfortunately, while I am not allergic to eggs, I am a bit sensitive to them, digestively. I love omelets, but when made with goose eggs...well, let's just say they didn't agree with me. They are just so incredibly rich! However, if I regularly add them into my cooking or baking, happily, I am fine. My neighbor Lu and her boyfriend Art are addicted to them and I have enjoyed sharing my surplus with them. A breakfast of steak and goose eggs is their hands-down favorite! My dogs and cats also love them. The shells are composted for use in my garden.

So, tell me what you think! What was your reaction when you saw that goose egg??? Oh, and by the way, now you know why I refer to Sydney as "The World's Most Expensive Goose"!

Show all