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Showing posts from 2008

End of the Hoophouse and the Garden

We took the hoophouse down today. Heavy snows coupled with high winds wreaked absolute havoc. The plastic ripped in a number of places along the sides, the doors tore off the ends, and the pipe forming the ridge pole snapped leaving a jagged end flailing about the interior of the remains. The makeshift cold frame we created inside collapsed as well in the wind, rain and snow. Miraculously, the kale from the summer carries on despite all, and even some of the little sproutings from the fall remain standing and brilliantly green. Even some of the swiss chard wags a brilliant stem and leaf in a last glimmer of fresh, homegrown goodness. We'll be happily sharing them this evening with family and friends in for the holidays. As unsurprising as this moment is, it is still a bit sad. I had hoped to eat from our garden until the day we left for Japan, and that my neighbor would share in the bounty of it after we had left. And in some ways that will still be true. Our larder, despite over

More Hoophouse Blues

When it rains, it pours. Or in our case, it snows a ton. Right on the hoophouse . Causing it to cave in. Again. And then temperatures drop to Arctic-like levels. So, we've decided that the hoophouse is coming down after the holidays. It's been great, but the design is not ideal for snowy weather. It would be better if the the ridge pole along the center had supporting poles - two on either side of the center of the arch - to help keep it up during a snow. The doors need some refining as well, as do the clamps. The clamps are painful to work with, and it makes opening and closing the doors an unwelcome proposition. Under consideration for the next time around are hard sides with actual doors and actual windows at the top. The seal would be better and the overall integrity of the structure would also be improved. On a happier note, the cold frame inside the hoophouse did well. (And it wasn't crushed in the collapsing!) This will carry on in future structures, but most

Sybil's Cabbage Soup

My friend Sybil bills herself as a science geek, but she's one of the best story tellers I've ever met and incredibly creative. She's brought more than one plant or tree to vivid life for me as we've walked in the woods or simply sat talking, and shared with me many a tale of her plant and garden adventures. Both she and her husband are terrific cooks - his focus is Lebanese and hers more traditional American and Polish with Lebanese influence - and a dinner invitation to their home is simply never declined. We were at her house the other night, and she casually brought over a small cup of soup. "Oh, I just made this cabbage soup, and thought you might like to try it," she said in an off-hand manner. We took the cup and took our dutiful spoonfuls, and then fought over who got to eat the remainder. I don't even like cooked cabbage, for heaven's sake. This soup, though, is changing my mind. A little zippy and full of seasonal foods it was hearty, warmi

Rescuing the Swiss Chard

The Swiss Chard needed help. A little bit of frostbite turned parts of the stems brown and some of the leaves looked more than a little wilted. These now short plants still manage to push out some brilliant leaves that I gratefully harvest every so many days. But this situation could not last much longer. We tackled the long talked of cold frame idea this past Saturday. We looked up a few different diagrams and plans, and settled on two possibilities. (There were tons more but these seemed the most helpful to us.) This cold frame description is helpful and describes what to watch out for and how a cold frame can be used. By far the simplest and most straight-forward explanation, this is the one we eventually decided to follow. The Savvy Gardener offers a very nice description of cold frames and hot beds along with an assortment of building plans from the electric to the old window kind. I'd never heard the term hot bed before, but now I know that's what we were aiming for

Stone Jar Molasses Cookies: A Vegan Classic

My cousin Gail celebrated her twentieth birthday yesterday, and this post is in her honor. For if Gail (also known in some circles as Holly) had not gone vegan, I would never have made these cookies. Well, I might have made them since they contain molasses, a personal favorite, but she was a greater motivation than my own sweet tooth. These cookies are part of the Heritage Cookie section of The Betty Crocker Cooky Book , 1963. A book I remember fondly from childhood, it contains some of my personal favorites. This section focuses on hearty cookies made by our foremothers, and offers some tasty options of which Stone Jar Molasses Cookies are one. These make excellent cutouts, especially for fall. I sometimes make them in the shape of leaves or whatever cutout suits my fancy. They are unbelievably tasty, and to make them vegan just use an alternative for the shortening. The dough does need to chill, so a little extra time is needed. Stone Jar Molasses Cookies from The Betty Crocker C

Hoophouse Harvest

The plants are still small in the hoophouse , and it does get a bit chillier in there than I would like; however, it is so satisfying to still be able to go down to the garden and gather some greens for dinner. I picked this pot full as I wasn't sure how things would fare during a cold spell and we hadn't built our cold frame yet. Since then we've also tightened and tidied the sides and I think the temperature is holding better. I whipped them up into a salad that evening; threw them raw into wild rice "casserole" with olive oil, cumin, canned tomato sauce , and a little soy sauce for the neighbors; and then sauteed the rest with olive oil and garlic for our usual favorite dinner.

Ginger Cookies with a Well-Worth-It Tummy-Ache

Now that the garden is essentially done I've got a little bit of time on my hands. The canning is basically done (except for a little bit of sauerkraut), the garden is mostly tucked away (except for the hoophouse), and the bulbs are planted (except for a few stray garlic bulbs that I still think I'm going to put in). What better time to bake? As I perused my grandmother's Settlement Cookbook , I took down three recipes. One was for Chocolate Toffee Bars , and a second was for Ginger Cookies. My Grandma Wegner had an x by these, which means she used this recipe. My mother had no particular memory of them, but since I'm a big fan of molasses anything - cookies, gingerbread (nothing better with vanilla ice cream, oh my!) - I forged ahead. These cookies did not disappoint. (The plate pictured above is the first of a few, and I don't want to discuss how many I really ate. Let's just say the voice of my Grandma Lambert saying "You're going to to get a tummy

Gardening Book Recommendations

The New York Times Book Review ran this review of an assortment of gardening books . Well-written (as one would certainly expect) by Dominique Brown and entertaining in itself, this review is quite useful. I confess I'm getting ready to see if my library can scrounge up a couple of these. Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition by Robert Pogue Harrison (University of Chicago Press) sounds particularly good, and Open Spaces Sacred Places: Stories of How Nature Heals and Unifies (TKF Foundation) by Tom Stoner and Carolyn Rapp sounds inspiring.

In Praise of Michigan Holly

Organic Gardening sent out this great little article in their latest e-newsletter, and I couldn't help but think of Michigan Holly Ilex verticillata . Also known as Winterberry, this deciduous shrub offers delicious fruits help tide birds over until spring. Its leaves turn and drop off shortly after the first frost, and those berries keep the show going all winter. A nice addition to any yard or garden, Michigan Holly would make an excellent living fence or replacement for non-native shrubs. Keep in mind to get the berries a male and a female plant are needed, so you'll have to purchase at least two. At home in a wetland it will also settle nicely in drier sites and create a lovely spot for nesting birds in the summer. It can grow to as much as ten feet tall while keeping a nice upright shape. It's a wee bit late to plant now, of course, but in the spring visit one of the Michigan Native Plant Nurseries and see what you can find!

Another Useful Link

I swear I'll get back to the hoophouse with the camera and more information on our repairs, but I got an email recently letting me know that The Stewardship Network podcasted their monthly Webcasts . These monthly webcasts are just full of great information and ideas relevant to anyone interested in restoration, native plants, or simple ways to control invasives (or overly friendly natives like deer!), and a bundle of other topics, too. Experts from around Michigan and the Midwest get together to discuss strategies and how to recognize problems as well as successes. It's good stuff! Check out the new podcasts and see what you can learn!

Victory Garden Posters

The Library of Congress offers a treasure trove of information and images in their By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA 1936-1943 collection. These beautiful posters encourage participation in bond efforts, advertise WPA funded plays, and so much more. They are fascinating to explore. The poster at left is one of a handful you can see about gardening. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided jobs for the millions of unemployed Americans during the Great Depression. It also funded arts and literary programs across the country. A separate program from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) , the WPA did a great deal of infrastructure development such as building highways and offered adult education courses. Both programs were integral parts of Roosevelt's New Deal.

My Mother's Garden

I'm digressing a wee bit here again, but I feel it's well worth it. Today is my mom's birthday. I won't say her exact age as I think she wouldn't appreciate that much, but she's in her early seventies and doesn't look a day over 60. She's one of those super spry older women - out doing her own yardwork, gardening and canning, chairing committees at church, fixing random things around the house - that we all hope to be. It is in my mother's garden that I got my first taste of caring for the land. I remember planting corn with her using a rusty old hand plow, and being firmly told that I could NOT eat those seeds. (I must have tried or had that look on my face of wanting to try.) It was there I saw my first tomato hornworm, and watched while my mother threw it out of the garden to fend for itself. (I still practice this unless a really hungry looking chicken is walking by.) Here I met zinnias and cosmos and immediately fell in love. She introduced me

Gnomebody Home

I'm not sure how or why I found this little fella, but I have to say I would ALMOST be tempted to get this for inclusion in my garden. In fact, you could get a whole bundle of them and set up a series of dioramas in your yard for the super observant passerby to enjoy... UM gnome vs. Michigan State gnome . The dreaded Buckeye Gnome sneaks up on the Michigan gnome! Oh, the possibilities...

Hoophouse Minor Catastrophe - Details

I finally went down to the hoophouse with a camera to document some of what's going on in there. The close-up of the bent pole is quite impressive in its way, and effectively illustrates why it's a good idea to get the snow off the roof as soon as you can. (You can see the roof sagging with the weight of even a small amount of snow.) I also noticed a hole in the roof from where it must have landed on something. A positive note is that the little Russian Kales are coming up nicely and looking strong, and the corn salad is, too. I harvested a goodly handful of swiss chard, kale, and some beets, too, for dinner. We're slacking on the cold frame, but hope to get that and the roof squared away soon.

Hoophouse Blues

I just investigated our hoophouse for the first time after our return from Wisconsin. We got a fair amount of snow while we were away, and the weight of it caused one of the "ribs" to bend and the roof to collapse. Our friends at Ambry Farm s stopped by to check out our dilapidated barn, and quickly moved to remedy the situation. They propped up the bent rib with a board, but we'll have to fix things up a bit. All seems well inside, but I can tell folks are chilly in there. I think I'm going to have to harvest the bulk of the Swiss Chard tomorrow unless we build a cold frame over it. The seedlings, strangely enough, don't seem to be suffering much. Perhaps I can't tell because they are so small, but they look good. The chives and parsely? They look like they could use a hug and a warm cup of tea - compost tea, that is! Photos tomorrow after I clear off tonight's snow. Fingers crossed for the folks in the hoophouse.

Old Recipes, New Memories

We traveled to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving this past week to celebrate with my family. This year we gathered at my oldest brother's home. It was the first time my mother did not host and therefore first time in many years that she did not have to do everything. Three generations of us gathered around two tables (and in one baby jumpy thing) to eat, talk, and catch up. The past two years have been a bit rocky for us all, and it was nice to simply be together. Dessert even brought in my father and his wife to round us out. Odds had it that a few were missing and missed, but we carried on. Since my mother wasn't running about like mad trying to make pies, mashed potatoes, stuff the turkey, remember the pickles from the basement, find the inserts for the dining room table, and sort out appetizers she and I had time to sit down and talk. I asked about her past traditions (they always had goose or duck - never turkey), the garden at the farm (they had one by the marsh and one by the

Hoophouse Update - Maturing Manure

So far, so good. The smell is not overwhelming when one enters, and there is a pleasant sort of humid feel in there when you enter. The overall draftiness of it is still slightly problematic in terms of keeping the temperature high enough for the plants. They are starting to show a bit of wear and tear from the low night temperatures we've been having. I think we need another load. I'm giving serious thought to bringing in some tires, stacking them, and filling them with fresh manure. It would be an easy way to contain the manure, and still get the benefit of its decomposition.

The Power of Poop

We're hopeful it's powerful, anyway. Things are a wee bit chilly in the hoophouse these days since winter started really moving in, and a neighbor suggested manure for a bit of a heater. The relatively fresh and therefore "hot" manure will give off heat as it decomposes. It will nourish the soil (depleted by our lovely tomatoes and eggplants this summer) at the same time it helps keep our swiss chard, broccoli, kale, and parsley cozy during these long winter nights. Since this is an experiment, I mixed some in with the soil and some I left only lightly mixed in to the soil. Some we plopped in a corner. And since it's horse manure there's plenty of straw still...well, that may help with composting/decomposition. Horse manure is not the ideal choice for your garden it should be said. Word has it that since many things (i.e. seeds and grains) simply make their way through the horse and out again that you end up with lots of extra weeds. I do battle

In their gardens, they are home.

The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans by Patricia Klindienst (2006), Beacon Press . "In their gardens, they are home." are the final words of The Earth Knows My Name and sums up in a few words the richly told stories of ethnic peoples - first-generation immigrants along with Native Americans and Gullahs - and the meaning they and their families harvest from their gardens. Compelled to write this book and search out the stories that fill its pages by her own family's migration to this country and subsequent assimilation, Klindienst presents a book so full of passion and life told so powerfully that it will be difficult for me to give this back to the library. (I'm at my renewal limit so back it must go.) Eloquent thoughtful writing surrounded by the words of mostly first-generation Americans bring these people and their gardens to vivid life. It is nearly impossible to not be transported to each garden and feel

Food Saves Town

This article about a small town cooperating to revive itself around food production actually appeared in early October in the New York Times , but I kept a copy of it around. It appealed to my community development side along with my hungry gardener side. It just feels so darn hopeful and sounds like so much fun, that it provides (my new favorite phrase) literal and figurative food for thought. These days we are all thinking probably a bit more about where and how we spend our hard-earned money, about a lack of jobs, about our homes, our neighbors, and our towns. Stories like this one coming out of Hardwick, Vermont further encourage me to give my money to my neighbors for their vegetables, meat, cheese, and eggs. It encourages me to eat not at that chain restaurant, but at a locally owned place that might be a little more expensive. My dollars go further in my local economy than if I give them up to a big chain to save a bit. That seems worth it when I can look my neighbor in the e

Gardeners Save the World

Ok, that's a bit over the top, but this little piece about choosing heirloom and organic seeds that I heard this morning on The Environment Report on Michigan Radio makes me feel like I should wear a cape and a leotard with a big G emblazoned on the front whenever I head to the hoophouse.

Outwitting the Potato

I'll confess that I have a love-hate relationship with potatoes . I enjoy eating them, but not very often. I even like growing them, but I don't enjoy harvesting them. How the heck can you ensure that you get every last one?!? They are so well camouflaged in their dirty little coats (especially the blue ones), and those tasty little ones are so hard to distinguish even by feel from little clumps of dirt. Let me just say I ended up growing potatoes in the same bed two years running, and not on purpose. And the ones I harvested I put in a picturesque bushel basket in the basement. And promptly forgot about them. They sprouted, of course. Doing what every potato wants to do come spring, they sent up spectacular roots in an effort to carry on their legacy of potatodom and world domination. (Ok, maybe not world domination as corn seems to have achieved, but we can't deny that they must have colonialist visions since they effectively left South America.) What could I do when p

A Few Reviews of Food Preservation Books - Gift Recommendations

I've been trying to explore a few different books about preserving and storing fruits and vegetables even though the harvest season is winding down and snow is beginning to fly outside my window. I'm hoping to have a stable of reference materials I can rely on for next season, and a bundle of new recipes to try out. The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest by Carol W. Costenbader, 1997, Storey Communications, Inc. Recipes for drying, canning, and freezing vegetables, fruits, and herbs harvested throughout the season. Simple drawings illustrate some procedures and accompany step-by-step instructions that the first-time as well as the experienced preserver will find handy. This would make a good gift for someone just embarking on the food preservation adventure, but check before purchasing it for someone more experienced. Preserving Summer's Bounty: A Quick and Easy Guide to Freezing, Canning, Preserving and Drying What You Grow edited by Susan McClure, 1998, Rodale Press .

Hitting the Sauce

We came home tonight after a good afternoon of working over at Ambry Farms in search of something hot and tasty. Some of our first snow fell today along with icy rain and our hands were nearly numb as we left the barns and farm. I whipped out a jar of Barbara Kingsolver's Family Secret Sauce and popped it in a pan thinking the spicy tomato sauce would be an excellent soup to go with some bread I baked earlier in the day. Tasty and spicy it was. So spicy it nearly blew our tastebuds off. There was a batch that I overshot the pepper on, and this may be one of those. Warmer we were by the time we got to the bottom of our respective bowls, and we know that next time we will cut it with a bit of our straight-up tomato sauce in the future. Yikes!

Jot it Down!

William Moss of Moss in the City - a fantastic little e-newsletter I get from the National Gardening Association about urban and small space gardening - had a great article about reviewing your year in gardening . It's a great suggestion, and I confess that geek that I am I keep a garden journal - complete with diagrams, thank you very much - that catalogs what I plant and roughly when, how it goes throughout the season, and an end of the season wrap-up. It's nothing fancy - just a notebook with graph paper marked pages for easy diagramming - but it helps me keep track of what's happening. It's also fun to look back and see what worked, what didn't quite go as planned, and just remember. I've done this since my first garden at the first place we lived here in Michigan, and it has helped me rotate crops (or at least know when I have NOT rotated crops), remember what I grew that I liked, how it did in a particular location, and what pairs I created.

Bok Choi in the House!

In the hoophouse, that is. I suspected two days ago that I saw little sprouts, but yesterday I spied a sweet little row of those first leaves - the cotyledon - that begin the process of photosynthesis . (Hope you don't have to squint too much to see them in the photo!) The unseasonably warm weather the past few days, I am sure, was quite helpful in getting things going. Things are meant to become a bit more wintry now, so we'll see how the remaining seeds do.

Monty the Praying Mantis

Monty, our Praying Mantis , is enjoying the hoophouse. My hope is that he's snacking on all those dastardly cabbage worms that we are currently sharing our kale and broccoli raab with. He (only my assumption that this is a male) is tricky to see due to his clever natural camouflaging. The photo at the left illustrates this fairly well, I think. A praying mantis is a good sign for any garden as it is a natural predator for some of those nasties that you don't wish to share your harvest with, i.e. cabbage worms, aphids, tomato hornworms, etc., and saves me the gross job of picking them off and then feeding them to the chickens. I also thought it was a good sign that I found a praying mantis egg case (see photo at left) on the bottom of one of the pallets we used for garden paths. Come spring the little ones will emerge bearing a striking resemblance to their parents, and their first meal may well be one of their siblings. Yikes.

Planting and Transplanting in the Hoophouse

Seeds of corn salad , russian kale, spinach, and two kinds of heirloom peas, along with two broccoli plants from the summer are snugly settled in the hoophouse even as I type. Aimee and I put down pavers left over from our patio reconstruction and at her suggestion I made a straight path. This means that both beds got expanded - one in a much needed way - and that compost and composted manure got hauled in to do so. No sign of the bok choi sprouting yet, but my fingers are still crossed.


I look up from my reading to look out the window of our dining room door. Golden yellow leaves of the sugar maple by the lower woodshed contrast with the dark green of the spruce planted by the previous owners. The tops of the grassy field south of the house that we have let grow up wave a bit, but what really catches my eye and my fancy are the goldenrod . True to their name miniature golden blossoms lined the stems of these tall plants this fall. Bees swarmed them cheerfully, and the praying mantis in the backyard walked the canopy they made. Leaf-tying caterpillars wove their way through their leaves as it ate. They appear to be the first to move in if one chooses not to mow. Encroaching from the fenceline, they dot our yard everywhere much to my delight. The variety of goldenrod is tremendous - shaped like actual rods, clumps, or branching like tree tops - they grow in shade, sun, woods, prairie, wet, and dry. Their leaves vary along with their blossom shapes, and their height r

Balmy Hoophouse Thoughts

I ducked into the hoophouse today to check on things and warm up a bit. We're waiting on a part for our new woodstove, and so the house is chilly. A little work in there seemed like a good choice. Once inside I found it was a balmy 65 degrees and climbing. Everything looked great although it was a bit dry. There is a fair amount of condensation on the plastic, but it isn't enough to really water the plants. I did a little watering and planted a nice little row of bok choi seeds. They should germinate, but we'll see how quickly they actually grow in these short hours of daylight. Then it was a little weeding, and plucking cabbage worms off the kale and calabrese plants. No sign of the praying mantis, but there was a lovely little ladybug wandering around. While in many ways I had been more than ready for the garden to be done, I am so glad we have the hoophouse. Not only is it a cozy spot, but we have a ready supply of tasty greens and herbs. The beets seem to be coming al

Hoophouse Updates

We've learned a few fascinating things about hoophouses since we've constructed ours. 1. It's easier the second time around. We helped our friends Bryan and Aimee at Ambry Farms construct a hoophouse the next day, and the four of us finished up in just over an hour. 2. It works! We checked the temperature the next day in ours, and by noon it was at 106 degrees. The praying mantis and cabbage worms seemed very much at ease. Yikes! 3. Keep an eye on the structure. We found about a day or so later that one of the ribs disconnected from the ridge pole. Bryan and Aimee had the same issue, but came up with a good repair. (It happens to be the same one that the original designer came up with when he encountered the same problem.) 4. Less light gets through. I felt like a real rocket scientist when I realized that (duh!) less light was getting through to my plants. Things seemed a little wilted and not so colorful. Since the sunlight comes through the plastic now there is a fra

The Hoophouse Is Born

We talked about it, looked at books about it, and today we're building it! The forecast is for a low of 20 degrees tonight, and if we plan on eating any of our own kale, swiss chard, parsley, beet greens, and calabrese this is it. We looked at a number of different plans, and finally settled on this hoophouse plan from the Westside Gardener . We bantered about plans using fencing, hay bales, plastic roofing, etc., but decided for ease of access and long-term use this is the one to go with. We measured the size we wanted using a garden hose to roughly sketch the shape. Then we removed the pallets we use for paths to clear the area for planting the stakes. Some need to be replaced anyway, and the set on the right of where the hoophouse will go I wanted to replace with boards to make a narrower path. One of my other beds is much too narrow, and this is as good an excuse as any to expand it. We finished up around sunset, and closed everything down tight for the night. We covered the

Frosty Night

Frost came in the night to coat everything with its thin layer of white. Luckily, I picked a good deal of Swiss Chard and cooked it up for freezing. I covered nothing in the garden. It was so cold and clear last night that I should have realized we were on the brink of a frost. I only remember looking up at the stars and thinking how nice they seemed, and how nice it would be to sit out under them. Then I remember thinking nothing at all except how to most quickly get in bed. It was that kind of day. The leaves of the chard, kale, parsley, and broccoli are heavily coated. I'm waiting for the sun to swing around and show me what has really transpired. Later that same day... I ventured out again to mourn my plants and tidy up. Miracle of miracles! They were all fine. Parsley, kales, and swiss chards stood in the sun like nothing had happened. I was duly impressed.

To market, to market

While it was still fresh in my memory, I wanted to recount a usual trip in to the Farmer's Market as a vendor. It's been a great summer, and market is easily one of my favorite parts. While I did tire at times of people asking for plastic bags to go in their canvas bags or wincing at a fair price for an organic potato, I still loved it and am a little sad I won't be going next week. It's an amazing experience and so much fun. I get picked up a little bit after 5am in the rumblely truck, and we make our way in to the city. The soft glow from the dashboard gives a bit of light to our faces as we make our way from dirt to pavement, and then carefully calculate the turns so as not to spill things from the shelves in the back. Conversation is challenging at that time of the morning, and floats along streams of the ridiculous, mundane, or onto any random story that comes to mind. Anything to keep the driver and passengers awake enough to function when we finally arrive at th

An Inventory of Summer's Harvest

The other night we inventoried our stock of preserved food. Various fall fruit sauces are still underway, along with apple cider and dried beans, but we wanted to see where we stood for the coming winter months. Fruits Apple sauce (spiced, plain, chunky and smooth) 12 pints and 8 half-pints Pear sauce 15 pints Peach sauce 8 pints Cherries in medium syrup 5 quarts 10 pints Blueberries in light syrup 8 pints Raspberries in light syrup 3 pints Cherry juice 3 pints Veggies Tomato sauce ( Barbara Kingsolver's recipe ) 13 quarts 17 pints Tomatoes plain 11 quarts 17 pints Pickled beets 11 pints Pickled zucchini 8 pints 24 half-pints Dilled green tomatoes 7 pints Green beans 17 pints Sauerkraut 4 quarts and a crock still cooking away Jams Blueberry 14 half-pints Black raspberry 10 half-pints Victoria sauce 11 half-pints (more like a chutney and made with rhubarb) Red raspberry 4 half-pints Strawberry 5 half-pints Peach 17 half-pints A selection of herbs - parsley, sage, and rosemary

Rural Renaissance in Review

Along with weeding in the field, bunching herbs and vegetables for market, and snipping salad mix at Frog Holler Organic Farm this summer I've been doing some reading. Pretty much any book related to gardening has always interested me, and now I find that I am also drawn to books that talk about living closer to the land, food preservation, and, of course, gardening. I've decided to begin reviewing some of the books I read to organize my own thoughts and share with others my impressions of them. Rural Renaissance: Renewing the Quest for the Good Life by John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist. New Society Publishers, 2004. 265 pages. Rural Renaissance is the story of one family’s transition from very urban living in Chicago as advertising executives to life as innkeepers in a small, rural Wisconsin town. The book tells how they formulate and achieve various tenents of “right living” – living lightly on the earth; community with nature and their neighbors; working for themselves on

Fall in the Garden

The other day while perusing the garden to see what tomatoes might be ready I heard a soft buzzing. I looked up to see a hummingbird visiting my cosmos, zinnias, and maidenhair vine. A small "tweeting" sound came with each sip. It flew on in less than a minute, and my only wish was that I had more to offer the little one. As it got smaller and smaller in the distance, I thought about the migration it was most likely about to begin. Frost is soon on its way, and this year it is particularly bittersweet for me as we plan our upcoming move to Japan. The opportunity to explore gardening and agriculture in another country is thrilling, not to mention all the cool vegetables and flowers I anticipate meeting during our time there. And I believe it will be good for these beds to rest from growing for a bit, although I am quite sure the grass running along the edge is already formulating a take-over strategy. Yet, I feel a certain sadness as I look over the garden and listen to the

Charting the New Course

It's been a little more than a month since I stepped away from my desk and my commute to be closer to home and see what would happen. Since then I've cultivated various patches of beans, swiss chard, onions, carrots, and beets. I've helped harvest three kinds of kale, two kinds of beans and parsley, sweet basil, potatoes, beets, four kinds of summer squash, broccoli, and dug carrots for this first time. I've snipped so many different types of lettuce that I can't keep track of them, fennel, radicchio , endive, chives, arugula, sorrel for a lettuce mix that also includes an assortment of edible flowers. Peaches, blueberries, raspberries red and black, and mulberries have been jammed and canned to sweeten our winter. Zucchini pickles sit on the counter and on the shelf. Cabbage is turning to sauerkraut to grace our table later in the season. Basil and parsley are pesto in the freezer, and more is to come. I've made my first sun tea - rosemary, mint, and fenne

A Recent Project

Our good friends over at Frog Holler Farm are hosting Holler Fest this weekend - a three-day music festival featuring some terrific local artists - and the whole neighborhood is gearing up. From peach cobblers, to pounding nails for the stage background, building an outdoor shower, to making signs, it's all beginning to come together. We're pretty excited about it! Nearly a month ago or so while weeding one of the patches we talked about the festival while we worked. We brainstormed ideas for workshops that might be of interest to folks wanting to take a break from the music or entertain their kids. Face painting, bubble wands, and a drumming circle were all mentioned. I suggested a nature walk where plants and trees were labeled so folks could either guide themselves or be guided at set times. Well, I've walked the trails a few times to choose what's most interesting. The woods and rolling hills that comprise the farm in part present a stunning variety and beauty.

Fall Planting

For the first time I've managed to plant a fall crop! I removed the pea vines and their trellises, and the onions practically leaped out of the ground in their fatness. I spread a good thick layer of compost and composted manure and then double dug it in for good measure. I hope to find a fledgling crop of lacianto kale, calabrese, beets, and beans in a bit of time. These I hope to cover up for the winter along with the other half of the same bed that is currently home to curly kale, flat leaf parsely, and a ton of swiss chard. Harvesting our own winter greens will perhaps be a reality this year!

The Plight of the Honey Bee

This great video on YouTube - BeeBoy Dance Crew Drops Dead - depicts the plight of honey bees due to colony collapse disorder in a super clever way. Not only are bee keepers in trouble , but those who rely on bees to pollinate their crops are, too. And that means that we're all in a bit of trouble. Without those fuzzy-bottomed buzzing friends of ours, much of the food we enjoy (i.e. tomatoes, peppers, apples, pears, peaches, raspberries, beans, etc.) won't be around much either.

Kohlrabi - The Mystery Vegetable

Good friends from Wisconsin spent this past weekend with us and generously brought along their half share in Tipi Farm CSA . The box contained a beautiful selection of veggies - fennel with bulb, a head of bib lettuce, some summer squash and zucchini, and four small kohlrabi - that we all agreed would fit easily into our food plans. Our friends drove back yesterday, and left me with two of the four kohlrabi. I left them in a bowl with some beets I picked up from Frog Holler. And then this afternoon I found myself weeding the kohlrabi patch at Frog Holler. I raised the question again as much out of curiosity as to instigate conversation to help the time pass. Sauteed and grated kohlrabi came up but as I stood this evening in the kitchen planning our meals for the next few days I looked at the kohlrabi. The beets are diced into a bowl and ready to join the shallots shortly, but should I throw in the kohlrabi? I've got some beet greens, too, which are also ready to go in once the be

Chicken Bath

Periodically, we see one of the girls lying on her side, foot slowly unclenching, wing outspread in a fan, and her eye slightly unfocused. Then the foot scuffles into the dirt and flings it up and out. She burrows her head into the dirt. Sometimes we see more than one chicken at a time in close proximity doing this. The dirt bath must be extremely satisfying. That slightly unfocused look is not uncommon, and they seem so at peace. It usually occurs toward the end of the day (just like our baths can), although a mid-afternoon "plunge" is not unheard of. The first time we saw it we thought the chicken must have been attacked. To our untrained eye our girl appeared to be writhing about in agony. Rushing up to see what had attacked her, the chicken sat up somewhat dazed and appeared perfectly fine. We walked away only to see her resume the same activity. Once we realized there was no pain involved, we understood it was a dirt bath. They often choose a somewhat shady spot, alth

One of The Best Things Going

Our good friends at Frog Holler Farm are starting a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) . Customers have been asking for some time for one, and this year Frog Holler is going to give it a go. Local organic farms like Tantre in Chelsea and the Community Farm of Ann Arbor have been offering it for a number of years, and it offers a boon to growers and eaters alike. The eater is guaranteed a box of amazing (and sometimes unknown) vegetables and herbs over the course of the season (roughly late May to mid-October) each week. The farmer is guaranteed funds to keep that farm growing and going. The land stays in production, the eater gets food, and the farmer can stay in business. Perfection. We joined our first CSA when I was going to grad school at Illinois State. A friend told us about Henry's Farm and the concept of getting food directly from them. We thought it sounded good, and so we split the share (box of food) for the season. It was an amazing experience. Along with about t