Thursday, March 11, 2010

Little Darling, it's been a long, cold, lonely winter

Here comes the sun...And the robins, and new growth, and a sigh of relief. 11 days until the Spring equinox, but it's beautiful today.

Winter Aconite
Allium and poppies, under the protection of the goddess in her aspect of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Hellebore, or Lenten Rose, in the backyard
And yellow crocus.

My heart is lighter.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Back from Thanksgiving

Like many Americans, I have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving. As a child, the holiday included a wide array of volatile personalities and unreasonable expectations. Add in the fact that my birthday is always within 3 days of the holiday, and you have a classic recipe for ambiguity.

As an adult, my holiday ambiguity has a different face- the face of excess. I like Thanksgiving food, even as a child, and still do as an adult. I like it a lot. Sadly, my body doesn't like it as much as my eyes and my brain. Even knowing how bad I will feel if I eat everything, restraint doesn't come easy.

Chuck and I just got back from a 2000 mile round trip to go home for Thanksgiving. We celebrate with our children and their families, our siblings and their families and my parents. Thanksgiving Day is at my sister-in-laws. I have several sisters-in-law, and they are all good cooks. My niece is as well and everything was delicious. This year it included roasted turkey, smoked turkey, dressing, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, rolls, cinnamon rolls, greens, a raw vegetable plate, and dessert. Gooseberry pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie and a birthday cake for me. Oh, and some deer bologna given to me by a young friend, from his first deer. (At his house, they ate wild turkey- I think it was his first turkey as well.)
There were a lot of people there, and food was not wasted- anything leftover went home with various nieces and nephews, sons and daughters. But there was so much on that table- it was almost pornographic. And we did it again the next day with my family- meat chili, vegetarian chili, posole, veggie posole, noshes galore. The world's best birthday cake.

I'm not the only one to be thinking of excess at this time of year. While reading this Culinate article, I came across these stunning statistics:
  • "As a symbol of American abundance, Thanksgiving hints at just how much food there is to squander. And squander we do, from farm to fork. More than 40 percent of all food produced in America is not eaten, according to research by former University of Arizona anthropologist Timothy Jones. That amounts to more than 29 million tons of food waste each year, or enough to fill the Rose Bowl every three days. Nationwide, food scraps make up 17 percent of what we send to landfills."
The article goes on to say this:
  • "We live in a culture of excess, and food is no exception. The average American wastes more than half a pound of food per day. I’m no mathematical whiz, but that would be a whole Quarter Pounder at lunch and dinner. When you count what’s put down the disposal, 25 percent of what enters our homes is not eaten, Rathje reports. " (William Rathje is a Stanford archaeologist who ran the Garbage Project at the University of Arizona in the '70's and 80's.)"
and this:
  • "Financially, wasted food costs America more than $100 billion annually, says the University of Arizona’s Jones. (The USDA’s most recent estimate on the cost of food waste — $96 billion10 years old.) Closer to home, the average four-person household wastes about $600 of food each year. "
Wow. I mean, really, WOW. That's appalling.

So what can we do? This little video has some thoughts:

This 8 minute video by Alison Byrne talks about food waste and composting in New York City. Her discussion of how many elephants it would take to make up the DAILY amount of food wasted in NYC alone is powerful.

And this blog has some suggestions, as well.

So what am I doing? Well, we already compost, and our dogs benefit from meat scraps we can't safely compost. Leftovers are not negatives around here- we practice once a week cooking on the weekend and eat leftovers all week long. My biggest problem is being sure I use everything in a timely manner. I grew up in a large family, and learned to cook in quantity. With just me and Chuck, we often have more than we can eat before it gets bad. Add in my "out of sight, out of mind" thought process, and that could mean the things in the freezer, out-of-the-way cabinet or corner of the produce drawer might get over looked. So I have lists of what's where, protecting the output of the major canning operation of the past summer and fall. And I am going to learn to cook smaller amounts. We'll see the results of that on the scales!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sweet Potato Harvest

Happy Halloween! In our small town, Trick-or-Treating is always moved to a different day from the actual holiday, so the excitement is all over here. Thursday night brought out all the ghosts, ghouls and goblins. Since my dogs are disturbed by people coming to the door, and since Chuck had to work, I shut our house up and went to hand out treats at a friends' house. We were busy for the entire 2 hours that the town has allotted for Trick-or-Treating, and noticed that the kids coming around were older than usual, and more plentiful. We suspect a couple vans full were bussed in from towns close to us. We only saw one group of kids I knew, my son's nieces and nephew. (Although the nephew was soundly sleeping in his strolled and could have cared less about the activity!) The older niece seemed startled when I told her I was Uncle Jerehmiah's mommy- apparently scary Uncle Jerehmiah having something as prosaic as a mommy was a surprising thought!

Our garden is about played out. We harvested the sweet potatoes. This year we grew Beauregard and Vardaman varieties. The vines were hit by our first frost, and turned droopy and dark. Chuck raked all the spent vines off the hill, and drug them around to the compost bin.

Then to dig them, he lay on his belly and scratched them out of the hill with a short-handled cultivator

It's a good thing we don't have to feed ourselves for the winter with our harvest- although I guess it's about as many sweet potatoes as we would eat. There are a lot of small ones, though. However, since I never met a sweet potato I didn't like, I'm pretty happy. Next year I want to try a variety called Red Wine Velvet- doesn't that sound wonderful?

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's been a long, hard summer.

And the blog has suffered. However, I believe that things have normalized, and I will be writing again. For now, here are a couple of the good things that came from this summer...

Monday, July 6, 2009


A few carrots, ( yes they are small but DELICIOUS!), some purple bunching onions- at least we are getting some harvest in the garden. The plants you can see on the left of the carrots are amaranth- good for greens and for grain if you let them go that long. Some tiny little tomatoes have set, and the beans are growing like weeds.
6 week purple hull crowder peas
The garlic is looking better than I deserve, given I planted it so late, and the storage onions are about ready to harvest. It has been a long, cool rainy season.
storage onions
The chard and carrots are looking good, as well. The sweet potatoes, not so much, but again, long cool spring. Has anyone used carrot tops in cooking?
chard and carrots next to bunching onions
Sweet potatoes next to black jet crowder peas

A green caterpillar was munching on the cabbage.
cabbage with caterpillar bites
caterpillar in question
I suspect the Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae. According to this website, the cabbage white butterfly is the most common in the Americas, and is predated on by mockingbirds, robins, cardinals, and oddly, the Pennsylvania Firefly. Since we have all of these in abundance in the garden, I am hoping not to see many more caterpillars.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Life is just a bowl of cherries

I think cherries must be the most generous of fruits. They give and give and give...and ask for very little in return.
Friday was a perfect day, and Chuck and I went over the mountain into Adams County to pick cherries. Last year, cherry season was very short, and we missed it entirely- in fact, I stopped at the orchard on a Wednesday to see if they were still picking, and when we got there on Friday to pick, the cherries were gone. We worried that while we were out of town to celebrate our grand daughter's first birthday we would miss the season again this year. Turns out we had no need to fear- this was the first week of picking. The trees were laden with fruit- a million rubies hanging above our heads. I suspect the season will again be short- it looked like everything was ripe already.

We picked at Boyer Nurseries and Orchards, just outside of Biglerville, PA. When you check in, you are given a bucket- I think it must hold about 2 or 2.5 gallons, and for $21, you fill them as full as you can. Chuck picked the big, black sweet cherries, climbing a ladder to get ones from the top of the tree. He filled 2 buckets from just one tree. I picked sour cherries, although the ones I ate right from the tree, warm from the sun and juicy, were sweet enough for me. I filled 1.5 buckets from one tree, and then topped off my second bucket with sweet cherries.

Chuck got a good deal on a flat of seconds black cherries for making wine. We brought along these ginormous zip-lock bags to bring the fruit home. Once we got back home, we remembered that, back when our second refrigerator had broken over the winter, we had no money to repair it, and thus we had no room to store this abundance of fruit*. As a stop-gap measure, we packed the Ziplock bags in coolers with ice.

We spent Saturday and Sunday evenings washing and pitting. I froze 10 quarts or so for use in smoothies and baking during the winter; we dried some, and then Chuck ground most of the rest for wine making. And, of course, we kept some to eat fresh. Our grand-daughter, here visiting her mom's family and having her SECOND first birthday party certainly likes them!
Boyer also has pick your own blueberries. Since we had never picked blueberries before, we thought we would give them a try. They are also a generous fruit!

In just a few minutes after picking the cherries we got about 5 pints of blueberries. I like to wash them in my salad spinner, and then carefully spin off some of the water. When we moved to Pennsylvania, one of my sisters gave me a blueberry bush that, probably due to my neglect, failed to thrive. I was sad about that since it had been a gift from my sister, but now I am REALLY sad, having seen the huge amounts of berries on just one bush.
I wish this was a better picture of the bush. Chuck took it with his phone. Below are the berries in the salad spinner. Not a rotten one in the bunch. Some are a little on the green side- you get this when you take a color blind person to pick blueberries!

*storing abundances of fruit is of course, the main reason we have a second refrigerator.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tanking straw bale beds

Eggplant, badly damaged by flea beetles
I had great hopes for the straw bales, but so far they have not met my expectations. Had I read the directions and then had Chuck read the directions before the bales got placed in the yard, maybe they would have been better. One reason I wanted to try the bales was to see if I could avoid the flea beetles on the egg plants and the squash bugs on the squash. The picture above shows the eggplants, lacy with flea beetle damage, so that part was a bust.

We should have set the bales so that the straw ran perpendicular to the ground, and then covered the bale with an inch or more of compost. As you can see, I didn't do that. I did feed everything with a fish emulsion, both foliar and then by pouring the rest into the straw bale. I am going to try adding the compost now, but it may be too late. It certainly is for these poor Thai and blush eggplants- the ones I started from seed. They weren't doing well in the house, and they really aren't doing well here. Most have simply vanished, and the others are there, but barely visible. I feel like a seedling murderer of the worst sort.
Desperate Thai or Blush eggplant in a peat pot
click to see a very unhappy bunch of peppers in a peat pot.
The squash are doing marginally better, but still not thriving.
sad Red Kori squash in foreground, equally depressed zucchini in back

On the other hand, the tomato seedlings I set out are looking terrific- still small, but we have had a long, cool spring.
tomatoes, red cabbage in back

The pepper seedlings I started and put in the ground are also looking good, again, small but they were minuscule when they went out there.
peppers- the tag with the name got lost, so these are surprise peppers.

The sweet potatoes are also doing well. A little heat and some sun and they will take off.
sweet potato hill
We planted the beans a week ago, and they are already above ground. Beans are miraculous in their rapid growth- like corn, you can almost see them grow before your eyes. We planted 3 varieties of crowder peas- black eyed peas from saved seed from last year's crop, 6 Week Purple Hull, and Black Jet, along with pinto beans from saved seed and purchased limas.
bean plants- 10 days old.

The spinach, tatsoi and pakchoi started to bolt, and I pulled them all out to free the area for the next crop. I am not sure why the bolted, because it has not been that hot. It could be because I seeded too close together and didn't thin adequately. We got lots of salads from them, and by supplementing with a couple of bags of locally grown purchased spinach I was able to freeze about 12 cups in half cup portions to use in pizza and stir fry in the winter. not too bad from approximately 8 sq feet of garden. I put 4 purchased amaranth plants to replace the tatsoi and pakchoi- we will eat the greens, but I am not sure if we will let it go to seed or not. Kale will go into the spinach area, and also into the garlic spot once it's pulled in July. I also have amaranth seed I may try to put in someplace.

I am co-gardening with a friend this year, but her garden went in late because she was abroad for more than a month during April and May. Last week we went to purchase plants. For some inexplicable reason we bought an entire flat of celery. We also got okra and a lot of herbs. I tried okra here 2 years ago, and got 1 pod, but it was a pretty plant. I had 3 tomato plants for her- something called Black Velvet that I had never heard of, a German Johnson, which is a large, striped yellow and red tomato, and something whose name I don't remember. I also had 6 white eggplants, 1 Anaheim pepper and a mildly hot pepper called Mexibell, along with seed for an Italian bush bean to send over to her house. I sent along some floating row cover to see if we can beat flea beetles on eggplants and bunnies on bean plants. In past years here, the bunnies don't bother the pole beans for some reason, but scarf down the bush beans. I know it seems like we put in a lot of beans, but my co-gardening friend is a vegetarian, Chuck and I eat a lot of beans and we decided that there just couldn't be too many dried beans for our two households. In the picture below, the ENTIRE first bed is celery, except for a couple hot cherry peppers and some volunteer onions; 6 white eggplants, Italian bush beans and okra in the second bed, and Black Velvet, German Johnson and Goliath tomatoes in the last bed, along with Mexibell, Giant Marconi, Anaheim, jalapeno and pimento peppers.
We covered the eggplants and the bush beans with a floating row cover in an attempt to foil the flea beetles and bunnies.