Backyard Fruit & Balloon Flowers

I like having a little fruit orchard in my back yard. I get fresh, organic fruit all summer and lots in the freezer for later. It doesn’t take much space . Berries are easy to grow and come back every year on their own. I’m not sure how hardy and easy he dwarf fruit trees will prove to be but so far, so good. “The Old Fashioned Fruit Garden” by JoAnn Gardner was a big inspiration for me to get started. The book has a lot of nice anecdotes.  It’s instructional but not overwhelming and contains lots of recipes and preserving techniques along with fruit growing and harvesting methods.

Marie’s Balloon Flower is blooming now. I love the way the blossoms are so puffy before they open.

I think I planted some of the garlic too deep. It never sent up scapes and the leaves dropped and started to dry. The bulbs look okay so I’ll spread them out on a rack on the porch to dry.

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I made Julia Child’s “Queen of Sheba” cake this weekend. She is my favorite chef. Her recipes are always accurate and easy to follow. I love her positive, happy attitude. This cake is almost flourless. Ground almonds replace some of the flour and it’s delicious.

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Summer Day

Lazy was a 4 letter word, according to my Grandmother..one of the worst. When I was taught how to do something, my Mother would say, “do it right or not at all…do it again.” When I’d finally get it right she’d say,”now do it faster.”

Those lessons have a way of sticking with me. I don’t want to be a slacker but on the other hand, there are some days when getting lots of  things done quickly and efficiently just doesn’t happen.

Yesterday, I was picking currants and the frogs were making a racket.  I ended up visiting with them for a long time. I started weeding but there were so many bumblebees I couldn’t resist trying to take beautiful pictures of them like the ones I see on Derrick J. Knight’s blog. (his photos are fabulous, I’ll spare you mine). Then I had the urge to try to pet the bumblebees.. I read on Mary Tang’s blog that people actually do that.   The bees kept buzzing away from me but I’ll try again another time.

Back in the house, I started cleaning but got distracted looking around my house thinking about redecorating and changes I want to make. That led to a rummage through my material.

Time got away from me so for dinner, I just made a salad. Kale, greens raw peas and pods from the garden with tomato, chopped onions and feta cheese. I thinned out plain yogurt with pickle juice and added some minced garlic which made a surprisingly good salad dressing.

After dinner, I had some laughs with my cousins and read for a while.

Definitely not a productive day but a good one, nonetheless.

New Haven

Saturday was cold, wet and dreary. Sunday brought more of the same and I could feel myself beginning to wallow in it. I convinced my husband to skip town and we took a little road trip down to New Haven. The city was pretty congested because Yale was having its Summer Camp check in and there was a Caribbean festival going on in town so we spent the afternoon on Chapel Street. It’s a nice walking area with lots of unique shops, restaurants and some of the old Yale campus buildings. I found a birthday present for my daughter in one of my favorite stores and a pretty piece of vintage wrapping paper in an art store. The paper will be perfect for a decoupage project I have in mind.

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We had lunch at one of my favorite cafés, Claire’s Cornucopia.

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It ended up being a fun day.

Strawberry Sauce & Lacecap Hydrangeas

The strawberries are almost done. My daughters came over and we had strawberry sundaes. I added sugar to whole, fresh strawberries and cooked them down over medium low heat until the mixture became thick and syrupy. After it cooled, we spooned it over strawberry ice cream and topped it off with freshly whipped cream. My pregnant daughter added bananas and chocolate sauce to hers.

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My 2 year old red currant bush has set out some nice berries that I’ve been harvesting and freezing. It will probably yield only a few cups of berries in total this year.  They will taste good  combined with raspberries in a crisp or crumble.
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I like blue lace cap hydrangeas. They send out runners, like the Annabelle hydrangea. In early Spring, the runners can be easily dug up with the roots and soon you have a whole new bush. A few years ago, I started with 2 bushes and now I have 6. I planted some of them in with the blueberries and lavender. I had read that all the blue flowering plants camouflage the blueberries from the birds. I’m not sure it has proven to be very effective but it’s a pretty combination.

Flora had her bath. Since she spends most of her days roaming around with me in the gardens, she’ll look dirty in no time. I figured I’d take a picture of her while she’s nice and clean. image Have a good weekend everyone!

Strawberries and Calendula

This has been a good season for strawberries. We ate a lot of them and then froze another 8 quarts. There’s an easy way to freeze strawberries so the berries stay separated instead of sticking together in one big lump. Wash the berries, take their leaves off and pat them dry. Spread them out on a cookie sheet so they aren’t touching each other and set them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the strawberries into containers or freezer bags and then back into the freezer until you want to use them.

Garlic should be sending up scapes pretty soon. I always direct sow squash, beans and cucumbers seeds into the garden. I think they are heartier than transplants and they are doing great. My heirloom peppers are pitiful, doomed from the start.

Calendulas are blooming. Another favorite of mine! For now, I’m adding the petals to salads, smoothies and into whatever I put through the juicer. They have a mild taste and contain antioxidant carotenoids..lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene. Later in the season, I’ll use the flowers to make skin products.  Calendula is known as the ‘Queen of Cosmetic Herbs’ and for  its healing properties. Tomorrow, my dog Flora is due for a bath. In the past she’s had skin issues. To keep things sweet, I’ll infuse a few flowers in some water and add that to her bath.

Hard Goodbye.. live, love, laugh

When I was a little girl, I went to a fairy tale wedding. My cousin Kathy looked like Cinderella and the man she married had fallen in love with her at first sight. His name was John and known as ‘Crazy Johny’. He had wild black hair and a big laugh. He danced on tables, sometimes got into trouble and was known to disappear into the woods for days on end. He was intense….strong, fiercely loyal, always learning, positive and kind. He played hard and worked harder.  That paid off.  He had lots of friends, fun adventures and a beautiful house and family to come home to.  His wife and their children were always the loves of his life.

A few years ago, my life changed. My Mom died suddenly. My Dad needed a lot of help. 2 of my 3 daughters left home. My business began to fail and eventually closed. It was a lonely and disorienting transition. I spent my down time playing Scrabble on the computer. I was surprised one day when my crazy cousin Johny challenged me to a game. That developed into a relationship that I will also be thankful for.  He told me lots of stories that made me laugh and sometimes cry.  Life through his eyes was a beautiful world to see. He let people be who they were. The ones he loved would always be loved, no matter what. He laughed, had fun and ate lots of good food. He was true to himself, his word and the people in his life. (there were many!).

I didn’t realize at first that he was battling a disabilitative disease though it was already into advanced stages. He didn’t allow his illness to define himself, his life or his relationships.  Last week the illness claimed his life.  It never claimed  him.

Our Farmers’ Market!

Today kicked off the first day of this season’s local Farmers’ Market. It’s held on Sundays from 11am until 2 o’clock, on South Farms. Buying from the vendors there is an affirmation of many of the things that are important to me. It gives me the opportunity to support local businesses, organic growing practices and farmers that raise animals that are allowed to run free, are well cared for and are not pumped up with hormones and antibiotics.

I stocked up on groceries and couldn’t resist buying some beautiful alpaca yarn from Stan. Wool itches me but I learned today that there is no lanolin in alpaca yarn so it won’t itch. The skeins I bought were from his alpaca named Victoria, lol.  Thank you Stan and Victoria:)

Pond’s Poultry Farm is new to the market. Dwayne Pond has a beautiful, young family and a farm in town. He raises small flocks of chickens and has a couple of pet goats. Turkeys are on the way. He’s a funny guy, check out his t-shirt.   I think the picture I posted of the plaque in his booth states his intentions for his small farm perfectly.

Garden Update

The gardens are doing pretty well.  Peonies are just starting to bloom.  All the vegetables are up and growing but not as energetically as they normally do  this time of year because it’s still so hot and dry.  I lost most of my roses  from a combination of  the tough winter and voles.   Even the tough old bushes, William Baffin and Lake Champlain had to be cut back severely and are shadows of what they have been in the past. Roses are challenging in the best of times here for an organic gardener.  I miss them but most likely I wont replace them.  Foxgloves took their role as star of the show this year…things always have  a way of working out.  happy days

Good Friends & Lily Bugs

Saturday, I was picking bugs off the lillies.  I don’t know what these red bugs are but they will decimate a lilly patch in no time.  Then, they move on to asparagus fronds.  I’m loving all the time in the garden, (even the bug picking) and thankful for it because things around here have been very stressful. When things get tough, I go into seclusion but my good  old friend of 20 years caught wind of what was going on and was having none of it. She showed up unexpectedly and dragged me away on a surprise “field trip”.  We went out to breakfast and then went tag saling.  It was a fun day.  It was good to get out. it was fun to look at a lot of “junk” and mentally transform it into something fun or pretty or useful.  It was great spending the day with a wonderful friend. I found a vintage serving bowl in perfect condition and  a beat up, wooden sewing box table. The cost was $7 for both and a metal plant stand was thrown in for free. The sewing box  table is cheap wood and not worth doing a lot of hand painting on.  I decopauged it instead and  replaced the handle with a glass dresser knob.  This was a quick, fun project and will  be a good thing to keep my threads and needles in.

Flowers & Bugs

We call plants that self sow and sprout up on their own, Volunteers. All the Foxgloves in my yard are Volunteers and I never have the heart to pull any of them. They are highly poisonous but so very beautiful!

Climbing Hydrangea is blooming. It’s great in shady places, grows quickly and anchors itself to fencing. New plants are started easily with cuttings. It can be a bit aggressive.

I saw this big, glittery bug hanging by its feet from a spiderweb. Its wings were beating frantically. Without even thinking, I plucked it out of the web. The hind legs and one antennae were all stuck together. I didn’t want to leave it like that so I untangled it and got the stickiness off with my fingernail. It took a long time and I was afraid that I was hurting the poor thing. When I was finally done, the bug climbed a lily, checked himself over and then flew away. Does anyone know what kind of bug this is?

Ironically, while I was trying to help this bug I noticed a tic on my leg and mercilessly crushed it. image

Strawberry Moon


Today’s full moon is called ‘Strawberry Moon’ by the Native Americans. Right on cue, the strawberries have started to ripen. I am wondering how this season will pan out with all the erratic weather. The temperature dropped more than 30 degrees, it’s barely made it into the 50’s the last few days. Cold temperatures have come with heavy rains and flood warnings.
The peach tree I planted in early May is looking distressed. Leaves are turning yellow and dropping. I’m hesitant to dose it with anything. Transplant shock, extreme temperatures and water fluctuations are most likely the cause. I took a superstitious route instead and planted Hyssop around it.
The blueberry bushes are chock full, Clematis is just opening and the Irises are winding down.
The rainy days have been good for catching up on indoor work. I finally cornered my college girl into going through her clothes and weeding them out. No easy task! Her older sisters send everything they don’t want her way so we waded through a LOT of things and donated more than we ended up keeping.
My oldest daughter is 7 months along with her pregnancy already and she is doing great! The baby is now the size of a coconut and weighs over 4 pounds. I have a tiny room upstairs I’d like to make into a nursery for when baby comes to visit. I’d planned to use the crib I had from when my girls were little but my daughter wants me to buy a new one with current safety standards. Hmmm… I understand her wanting everything ‘just right’. This is her first baby and she’s the first born herself…very much a type A personality, she’s a lawyer. I think the crib may just be the beginning, lol.

Rain!


There’s been no rain for weeks, temperatures have been in the 80’s, the soil dusty and as dry as a bone. Finally, last night thunder storms rolled in. Relief! I’ve been working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week getting seeds planted and annuals set out. I’m almost done. It’s wet, hot and humid out today and the Mosquitos are swarming so I’m booking off and having my friend over. She’s a gardener by trade and needs a break too. Both of us are feeling (and looking) a little crooked and scraggly. We’re going to make stepping stones, drink tea and have eggplant and oatmeal cookies for lunch.

Cabbages, Bridal Wreaths & Lilacs


My Grandmother set a lot of store by her plants. Cabbage was a big favorite of hers and she grew a lot of it. She made all kinds of delicious things with her cabbage and used it medicinally as well for stomach problems, spring tonics, growing pains and skin conditions.
Bridal Wreath bush (Vanhoutt spirea) was another plant she kept. She grew them from cuttings. When my Mother got her own home, Grandma planted a Bridal bush in the yard right away because she said it would help to keep my Mom’s marriage sweet. She planted a Rose of Sharon too, saying it brought the protection of a Mother’s love. A Lilac tree had to be just outside the back door of every home. I don’t know why. Could be, my Grandmother just liked Lilacs. She never cut them unless a big rain was on its way. Then she would gather as many as she could before they’d ‘rust’ and be ruined on the tree.

PeachTree, Peony & Rhubarb


Borders are starting to fill in and flowering shrubs add nice bursts of color.  Lilacs are already fading with the unseasonably hot temperatures but the humidity enhances their fragrance and it just fills the air! A tree peony planted 3 years ago bloomed for the first time ever. The rhubarb got away from me and sent up its feathery seed stalks. It’s more tender and less stringy if eaten before that happens. I love the look of rhubarb but the taste, not so much. Last year I made a lot of crumbles, cakes and breads with it and wasn’t really crazy about any of them. I even tried making rhubarb pickles but they turned into a soggy mess. Maybe a rhubarb chutney would be good.
My daughters brought me a semi-dwarf peach tree, a gooseberry bush and some raspberry plants for Mother’s Day. A big hole had to be dug for the peach tree… twice the depth and width of the pot it came in. It took over an hour to dig because of all the rocks.  I backfilled the hole with soil, compost, leaf mold and added a good handful of dry dog food to the mix as well.
My little dog Flora trails around at my side all day long. I feel lucky to have such sweet company.

Lilacs & Lemon Verbena


Lilacs are blooming. This one opened today and is so  beautiful I couldn’t resist snipping a little and taking its picture. It smells just as good as the standard lilac.
Lemon Verbena doesn’t look like much but it makes up for that with its extraordinary fragrance.  It’s tangy, not sweet and very fresh and clean. When I had my shop, I used to go to Gilbertie’s Herbs wholesale greenhouses, to buy plants to sell in the store.  Mr. Gilbertie showed me a gigantic lemon verbena plant that he had in one of his greenhouses for many years. He rustled a few of the branches and the most wonderful lemony scent filled the air. Lemon Verbena is only hardy in zones 8-10 but is easy to winter over indoors in a sunny windowsill. It has a woody stem and with a little simple pruning, the plant can formed into a pretty tree shape. If it is repotted as needed into a larger pot, it will get huge! I saw this little verbena at the garden center and decided to give it a go. Maybe it will get as big as a miniature tree some day, like Mr. Gilbertie’s.   Fingers crossed.

Sweet Violet Simple Syrup

Violets are in full bloom throughout the garden so I made some sweet violet syrup.  A spoonful in a cup of herbal or darjeeling tea  is  delicious.  A splash in a glass of iced water adds a tinge of color, subtle flavor and a  bit of sweetness.  It can be added to fruit salads, lemonade, iced tea or cocktails.

I picked violets without the stems and washed them in cold water.  Then I loosely packed the flowers into a clean glass jar and covered them with boiling water.   Eight hours later, I strained the infused water and measured it . There was 3 cups.  I put the violets, infused water and 3 cups of sugar (same measurement as the infused water) into a non reactive pan and stirred it over low heat until all the sugar was dissolved.  I added the juice of 1 lemon.  (Lemon is optional. I like the taste  better with the lemon but it does change the color of the syrup,  giving it a pinkish hue instead of purple.)  I strained the violets out with a  fine mesh strainer and poured the syrup into a sterilized glass jar. Once it cooled down, it went into the fridge where it will be stored.

I should probably mention that violets that may have been exposed to pesticides, lawn fertilizers or sprays should never be used.   Also, I took some shortcuts from traditional methods. I infused the violets for 8 hours  and most recipes recommend  letting them sit for 24 hours.  I used  organic cane sugar  which isn’t pure white and  I didn’t remove the green parts  at the bases of the flowers,  probably compromising the color of the syrup.  Here’s a link for a recipe without the shortcuts  and with some more good ideas on how to use the syrup.

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Bluebirds & Lilacs


I saw a bluebird going into the house I put up! ..bluebird of happiness…  I embroidered one right in the middle of the quilt I made for the little baby coming our way. Speaking of which, I was hoping  lilacs would be nice to cut for the baby shower next week. It’s been in the 80’s here and dry so I’m not too sure that’s going to work out.
Viburnums and spurge are looking beautiful and the apple blossoms are opening. Giant bumblebees are everywhere. I am glad I decided not to get beehives this year. I have a good local population and I didn’t want to meddle with it.
I’ve been planting out cabbages, bok choi and some herbs. I still have a  a lot more planting to do.  I should have started the kale sooner. I’m glad I did extra tomatoes though. I broke 12 plants by dropping a light on a tray and last night my husband tripped in the dark onto another tray on the back porch.
My daughter will be home from her first year of college this weekend, just in time for Mother’s Day.
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Bleeding Hearts & Tadpoles


Today I’m off on a little road trip with my friend Pat. About an hour away is a giant garden center. People visit from miles around. These days, I’m hesitant to buy anything because I don’t want to bring flowers into my yard that may have been sprayed with something that could kill the bees. I never would have even thought of that 10 years ago. I think that is sad.
On a happy note, we’re getting a much needed drizzle today. I planted 25 more strawberry plants and dug a new bed for my homeless potatoes yesterday so they’ll get a soak. A new bed isn’t ideal for potatoes but as I’m going to build the soil up anyway as the grow, I think it will be fine.
The bleeding hearts are looking gorgeous and my little pond is filled with tiny black tadpoles! I wonder what kind of frogs they are. They develop into tiny black frogs, only about 3 mm. long.
I finished the bag I started a while back. All ready for Spring!
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Asparagus for Breakfast


So thankful to wake up to sunshine, flowers and WATER! Our water was restored yesterday. Early in the morning until late afternoon.. all weekend long, this small business owner worked to replace our water pump and tank. The pump was 200 feet down into the ground! I am so thankful to him. He went above and beyond what I expected. There are still business owners that care, do excellent work and have a lot of integrity.
The flowering trees are still blooming, the currant bushes are in blossom too. The funny fritillaries didn’t seem to help my mole problem but I like the whimsical note they bring.
Asparagus is coming in. There’s nothing like it….freshly picked from the garden, blanched in boiling water just until the color turns very bright so it is tender yet slightly crisp. I melt a little butter on it and add a sprinkle of sea salt. I had it first thing this morning, out in the garden with some coffee and cream.
I planted the apple trees this weekend. A few years ago, my cousin in South Carolina gave me an odd tip; when planting fruit trees, she adds a handful or 2 of dry dog food into the hole. I’ve done it ever since. I wonder if that is a common thing?
Happy Spring!

No Water

This morning there was no running water. Luckily, a nice man came right away to assess the problem. It turned out to be a pretty big one, as far as these things go. The well pump was broken. Finding the pump was the first issue. For a while he thought it may have been under the patio or even worse, under the driveway pavement.  Good thing it wasn’t. He said the problem with old farmhouses is that there’s a lot of buried metal and his pump locater gets thrown off.   Once he had a good idea where the pump might be, he started digging  with a shovel but things got complicated and the man had to get a backhoe. He ran over an electricity line but it only went to the garage and nobody got hurt. Codes have changed since the pump was last replaced in 1979. Things will have to be set up differently. If all goes well, I should have water next week some time. Now, it’s late in the day and the nice man is still out there digging with the backhoe. This pump is down deep, I guess. It could have been worse. I’m glad it didn’t break a couple months ago when the snow was 3 feet high. We would have had to wait til the frost table went down and that would have caused a cascade of home owner disasters.. frozen pipes, heating and plumbing problems… Best to count blessings at this point.

Asparagus, Seedling & Geraniums


The days suddenly seem too short, there is so much to do. Most of the seedlings are brought outside during the day. The tomatoes are suffering a bit, too much too soon for them maybe. They’re sensitive at this age and it won’t be safe to set them in the garden until the end of the month. Cabbage, kale and bok choy stay out all day and night and will be planted out sooner. All the wintered- over geraniums are out too. They’re a bit leggy but once they get used to being outside, I’ll cut them back and repot them. If the temperatures dip too low, I’ll have to bring them in.
Picking up my seed potatoes, I couldn’t resist a gorgeous bundle of 2 year asparagus plants. Beware of impulse buys! I have an asparagus patch already, about a dozen plants.  They’re just starting to peek through.   I really didn’t need more but there’s nothing like fresh asparagus and they are perenniels.. Oh well. Asparagus beds have to be prepared properly. I used the space I had allocated for my potatoes. It was already prepared with good compost. I set the plants in and covered them with 6 wheelbarrows full of soil I have brewing beneath leaf piles in the back. I’ll continue to build up the bed on a weekly basis, adding more soil and amendments.. eggshells, compost, coffee grinds, etc. The process with potatoes is similar except I wont have to be as conscientious about keeping their plot as rich.
A couple dwarf apple trees and a tayberry bush arrived in the mail. Those will be planted out today. The trees are bare root so I set the roots in a bucket of water until I’m ready to go. Happy Spring!

Country to City

Yesterday I just about finished the spring cleaning on the back gardens.  This morning we visited my middle daughter.  Last  summer she got married and moved to a city.  Luckily, there’s some outdoor space and she and her new husband made it really inviting!  They refurbished an old patio set of mine.  She sewed up some fabric pillows and  he filled buckets from a home improvement store with pots of herbs.   We had brunch on their patio… vegetable frittata,  fresh fruit and croissants.  It was  a great visit.  I miss my daughter and wish that she didn’t live so far away (I exagerate; it’s less than 1 1/2 hours away)  but it’s good to see that she and her husband are making such a  nice life of their own.