Monday, June 13, 2011

9 inches of rain?!

Well, that does explain the daunting amount of weeds that I saw when I got there the other weekend. I accomplished only a limited amount of weeding then, as I had a stunning headache, but I returned with reinforcements (thank you, K, you know who you are), who provided both moral support and significant help yanking out the accumulated weeds that had sprung up in the intervening period and all that rain. Now I can find my plants once more. Hoo-ray!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Excuses...and events!

With all the rain we've had, it's hard to get out there and do maintenance during the few hours I have in any given day. Still, I guess it's just like this:
(As you may imagine, I've become a fan of Yehuda Moon bike comics; I encourage you to go over there and visit. They bring the funny, and are encouraging for those of us trying to build more bicycling time into our busy days).
Still, I'm looking forward to some more maintenance time - and hopefully some peas and lettuce too - on Saturday before our first seasonal event (not counting Opening Day on April 9). If you're interested and are local, it's at 2pm, BYO picnic, and there'll also be a presentation (and I think goodies?) from Sustainable Belmont as well as it simply being a picnic day.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Well, first of all, a belated welcome to all the folks who've stopped over to say hello from the recent Globe article about the Rock Meadow Community Gardens.  ( I think it may tell you to register but it will let you view the article for free. ) I was puzzled that the Globe folks didn't wait a few weeks until some of the plants would start leafing out - here in zone 6a we're only in the planting stage this month! It must look so brown! Nevertheless, it was fun to find out that people are so interested in gardening that it might merit a little mainstream attention. That said, please don't be discouraged by the sparseness of the plants - it's early days yet.

So, whether you're just curious about the people you read about in the article, or about gardening in general, welcome. As you'll see if you poke around on my site, I'm much more casual about blogging than many others; Kathy over at Skippy's Vegetable Garden is very scientific and has photos that are far better than mine. Also, she has a really great dog (the aforementioned Skippy) - I have no dog. Sorry. :) But I would point out that if you are curious about a lot of the science behind gardening, you really cannot go wrong by perusing her blog; it really is a wonderful and informative resource. I garden because I love growing herbs, vegetables, berries, and flowers, and it gives me an excuse to hang around outside and watch birds and enjoy the sunset. I blog because it's fun, and through the blog I get to know others around the country and around the world who garden. In turn, we drop by one another's blogs to check in on eachother, and admire everyone's plants as the seasons change. We compare notes, what worked, what didn't, speculate as to reasons and solutions for future attempts... and laugh. A lot.

Speaking solely for myself, I've found it fascinating to learn that people garden everywhere, including the arctic and antarctic zones, where they have to go to some extraordinary lengths to cultivate plants in containers. (Check out the blogroll that lists some of the many many garden bloggers around the world - my blogroll is located in the right-hand column and down a ways.)

What I've learned over the years of blogging about my own experiences and reading about others' is that everyone's climate presents unique challenges (providing or excluding light during the extreme portions of the year in the arctic; water and drought periods in the tropics, etc.), but everyone approaches gardening with the same dedication, anticipation and curiousity -- even though many of us are not relying on our gardens as a strict food source. It provides exercise (and a few injuries - brambles, thorns, blisters and pulled muscles come to mind), sunshine, fresh air, plenty of quiet time (and social time), as well as wildlife observation (for good and ill...suffice to say that we gardeners find the sub-plot in Caddyshack involving Bill Murray and the gopher much more humorous than do most of the rest of the population).

I also appreciate that everyone gardens in their own way, and for their own reasons, just as everyone who blogs does so for different reasons. Some bloggers want a forum for writing essays and engaging in discussions; some hope to build it slowly into a writing career; others (like myself) prefer to keep it a strictly social venue. Likewise, some gardeners prefer strictly organized English-style gardens; others will carefully arrange "square-foot" gardens or rows of various crops; some prefer flower or herb gardens; and some happily improvise from season to season. No doubt you can guess which category I fall into (remember - nature works pretty well without us, and all those seeds get carried and scattered by the wind, by birds, by rows there! so don't laugh at the rough edges in my garden). It works for me.

As with so many other things, there is no "wrong way" to garden - nor, I contend, is there a wrong way to blog. I am happy to sit here at my keyboard and correspond with people when they feel like dropping by. I like to visit their gardens too - via their blogs. Think of the friendships I'd miss out on if I hadn't "met" so many of these people, and the things I might not have learned about (vermiculture, pickling, beekeeping, the locavore movement, raw milk and cheese, urban farming with chickens and ducks, to name only a few) - not to mention the fact that a surprising number of the people I've "met" online are often people that I either have already met or later went on to connect with through other, offline interests (several branches of science, technology, knitting, several art disciplines, documentary filmmaking, teaching and education, just to name a few).

I could natter on for a while about it, but I'm really just trying to encourage the newcomers to say hello, don't be shy, and introduce yourselves. I certainly never expected any of us would make it into the local paper, but I hope that it encourages people to start a little garden, or a container garden, or take a walk through the conservation land and say hello if you see one of us working in our plot.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rain, and a lot of it too

I'm not complaining, believe me, but this year's "April showers" amount to 3.5" between sunday the 10th and Thursday 14th, and another 3.5" overnight last night. Here's my rain guage. This should be an interesting growing season...

But I have bought a few more perennials to tide me over while the seeds are germinating.

- Posted from my iPhone...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rodents, and other mixed blessings

They're so cute, really they are. I let the family of field mice stay in my compost wheel bin over the winter, because I felt badly they might get eaten by this (also very cute) stoat (short-tailed weasel, or Mustela erminea) 
image courtesy of Wikipedia
Still, spring has arrived, and I served the eviction notice, and they scampered out the door and ... straight into the pile of dreck I've been nursing along and pretending to compost. I guess I know what's next on the list of chores, don't I...

As I was clearing out the season's overgrowth and grass, (incredible how much grass, vines and other weedlife grow in the cold months) I got to know my emboldened neighbors, the meadow voles. Again, the only way to deal with them so far is to deny them harborage, so it's more trimming and clearing for me!
baby meadow vole; from Wikipedia

Still, there were plenty of birds around, and as much as I joke about the furry critters, it is part of the package when your garden plot is on conservation land. You get great soil, but you also have to be moderately friendly with the (furry, feathery or scaly) neighbors. Such is life; full of trade-offs! The birds at least are endlessly cheerful. I saw numerous kinds of swallows, song sparrows, redwinged blackbirds in the nearby marsh, and I think a meadowlark (checking on that one though... yay Sibley's) as well as the usual group of cardinals, blue jays, robins, and a few circling red tailed hawks.

Knowing what I'm up against this season, I've got my row cover ready, and I'm planning to hit the hardware store for some of the finer-grained chicken wire so as to cover the plants and exclude the perverse depradations of the woodchuck (one bite out of each and every vegetable, could they find a way to be more annoying?)

Now, I'm off to sort through my seed packets and decide how I'll distribute the remaining spring crops. I keep hoping I'll get some beets one of these years...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Opening Day

Got a fair amount done this Saturday, ie, the official opening day for our community garden. The weather nicely obliged us, with sun, a light cool breeze, andno rain. I got a littlepink, just enough to cheer me up. Got a fair amount of cleanup done;

Obviously there's still a lot to do. But I've cleared several of the plots, and even planted peas,

And also a bed of mesclun greens. I moved things around a little, whileclearing things out. Many little rodents were evicted this day I can tell you. Fly, be free!! It's conservation land, there are plenty of other places to burrow!

Enjoyed watching the many birds racing around, and hearing their songs. Had to laugh though, while heading home I saw a couple of crows dive-bombing and harrying a much larger (and supremely unconcerned) red tail hawk. Eventually he sauntered off in some kind of avian resignation, as if to say "how tiresome. So rude!"

If the predicted rain holdsoff, I may head back to the garden just to get a few more seeds planted. We'll see.

- Posted from my iPhone...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Because my seedlings won't be up yet...

I shall instead entertain you with a couple of gratuitous food and cooking shots. Just...because.

Beets, pre-roasting. (very tasty. Just add a little oil, salt, and mace.)

Peppers, with diced pear, sauteed prior to using them in soft tacos.
Caramelized onions are in the container in background.

Spicy julienned potatoes. Trust me on this one.

A cheese plate from a recent meal out with Dad. (trust me, that pretty green mold outer skin? Don't be afraid. It was tasty!)

- Posted from my iPhone...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Soul Food...

You know it's going to be strange when I submit a blog post with a title like that.

This started when a friend on twitter, who lives in China, casually commented on a vegetable with an odd, hard to translate (i.e., cryptically idiomatic) name. The photo he enclosed of the feast he was having included a beautiful vegetable that I thought might be one of their local fresh pickles (fresh in the sense of being pickled only for a few days or weeks, rather than the truly long-term pickling processes, and/or fermented products such as kimchee, etc.). The colors reminded me of amaranth, but it was clearly a sliced root vegetable with the texture / appearance of a daikon radish, and the colors of a watermelon candy - pastel pink, a ring of white, and an edge of pale green. It certainly looked tasty, but he reported a name [ 心灵美 ]  that translated as "beautiful soul" - so you can see why it became a tantalizing msytery. Still, many favored dishes and foods have poetically unhelpful names, like "空心菜" ["hollow heart vegetable"]. She apparently suggested to him that it was a carrot. I was pretty confident it was not, and when he said it tasted more like a radish, I had hope.

I started searching around on variants of radish (not terribly helpful) and then tried adding the characters and vegetable, and eventuauly found a hilarious artist in Beijing who uses vegetables to create collages. Enjoy the image here:
[courtesy of this site: ]

The title translates to "soul kiss radish" and as you can see is a funny homage to Klimt. It's worth poking around the rest of the site to enjoy the images, it really is sweet.

From there I was able to do a little further searching and figure out that unless you use the full "心灵美萝卜" it won't appear in the vegetable category of words. I also found that in the States, (somewhere at least - no where I'd ever seen it but...) it's called Watermelon radish. By whatever name, it looks delicious and I think I'm going to have to see if I can grow some.
Enjoy the 'soul food'!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Winter starters

Hopefully, at least. It's always a gamble starting seeds in January/February, but I like to do it. When I was at C-Mart in Chinatown last weekend, seeing these seed packages inspired me just a little. We'll see what happens.When I've done this in the past, I used those little fairy lights to supplement what light they got. It helps - but of course I need to choose my containers wisely too. I used containers last year that were much too small, and they dried out too quickly as a result. Poor little seedlings couldn't tolerate the conditions. This year, hoping to get the balance right...and maybe get a few edibles out of it too. I'm hoping to get an early start on those eggplants - but I'm also realistic about the fact that it's just too cold. On the other hand, the other two packets just might do alright. We'll see. Watch this space for updates, I guess.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

More White Fluffy Stuff, Anyone?

...followed by negative temperatures, according to the predictions I see. Whatever. Winter in New England. Moving right along!

That only makes me want to work on my soup recipes. I've been eating ratatouille lately, but I'm craving that staple of Vietnamese home food, curried chicken soup (Ca Ri Ga). I haven't quite got the spices to my liking yet, but I'm close. Also it has the advantage of being something I can cook in my fabulous, family-size rice-cooker. Although I love the thin, clear, angel-hair like mung bean noodles that are traditional with this, I find that detail too much of a hassle at home -- mostly because whenever I cook those noodles, I make a big hot splashy boiling-water mess. Rarely do I create true kitchen disasters, but for some reason, these noodles trigger the jinx! So, rice is my go-to happy substitution for soup. It works for me.

Another variation on the recipe is that I simply prefer my chunks of carrot & potato smaller. I realize you run the risk of the chunks falling apart, but I'm just fine with that risk; it will still taste good and will actually fit in my spoon this way (and that's keeping in mind I use a big spoon when eating this soup).

I'm thinking about cooking lamb soon, as well. Been a while since I've cooked lamb, so maybe a roast with lots of carrots and potatoes and parsnips. If it turns out photogenic as well as edible, I'll try to remember to post a recipe & a photo here.

And now, back to my garden catalogs...

- Posted from my iPhone...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Weather Fail

It vaguely amuses me when I check the weather site to see how far off their predictions can be. I don't expect a lot of accuracy; this is New England after all, land of random 70ºF days in January and freak snow squalls in August.

You would think, however, that they could decide what the current temperature is, right?

Not so much.

The various weather 'apps' and sites I check in with always cite a high & low temperature for the day. In theory, when the current temperature drops, so should that low, right? No.
Low tonight in the 20s? Uh, oops: it's currently 2ºF now, as the tightly curled tubes that my rhododendron leaves have become will confirm.

The take-home? It's still true that if you want to know what the weather in New England is, you're best off looking out your own window. Thanks Ben Franklin, whereever you are.

- Posted from my iPhone...

Fugitive Colors

{originally written for posting on 10/4/10}
What do murex snails, fugitive dyes, and my purple beans this season all have in common? Stay with me here, I'll get to it.

I've been reading a number of books about color. How is it used in dyes, paints, pigments, and even in food; where did we get the original dyes that we now take for granted through modern chemistry? Why do some fade ("fugitive") or change color over time or exposure to light? How do I know which type of paint I'm buying when I fill my palette?

Some of these questions are issues covered in varying depth when you attend art school; there's a great reference book on nearly all art materials that helps us discern the right material for the project, depending on lighting conditions, indoor or outdoor work, the anticipated lifespan of the piece, etc. Among other handy issues it covers is the fact that the
American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has a ratings and testing system for artists' paints and dyes, so that you have some idea of the lifespan, color-fastness, and toxicity of the material you'll be using. One of the more memorable seminars I sat through as a freshman at art school was when a speaker came from
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  to speak with us about our relative exposure to toxic materials. Artists' materials (whether it's paints, photo processing chemicals, solvents, pastels, plaster and clay dust, glass or metal fumes from blast furnaces, etc.) are simply not rated for our exposure levels. Those ratings were developed based on a casual exposure (a few hours per year, for example) rather than how many hours per DAY a working artist will be using any or all of these materials. It was discouraging to learn how hazardous everything was, but on the other hand at least I learned that I can take some sensible precautions to minimize the risks. All professions have hazards of one kind or another, and I was glad someone in the program had sensibly gotten someone to address the topic for us. 

That said, The Artists Handbook of Materials is the reference book I was talking about. It's not a narrative but a dry, utilitarian reference book when you have a project to plan.  

The other titles I've been reading are all about the history of the use and development of pigments. I started by reading
Color: A Natural History of the Palette  which is a great read that discusses how each of the various hues were found (stones, shells, plant extracts and fermentation, and even the 'tears' from certain snails) and stabilized in order to color fabric and affix images from the stone age onwards. The royal purple was a truly exorbitant dye to manufacture, and the city that first specialized in its production had a monopoly. Aboriginal paintings are considered by their artists to be a very sacred act of creation of the subject of the story - invoking the life form or spirit that is depicted - and the substitution of another source of ochre or natural pigment - even if it has the same color - is unacceptable in the extreme, partly because what makes that ochre sacred is the journey taken to obtain it in the first place - complete with remembered and recited history songs. More recent stories include the development of stable chemical dyes and pigments, and the artists who did - or did not - care to use non-fugitive paints.

Next on the reading list is Mauve, and then maybe Madder Red and then Indigo.

Part of what launched me on all this color history research was my curiousity about what causes some plants to develop such gorgeous, if unusual, colors - like purple string beans, red carrots, and so on - only to lose that color once you cook them. I love growing the funny colored vegetables, but it does seem a shame not to be able to keep the color. Certainly if you've ever made potato salad with those "Peruvian Blue" potatoes, you'll get a purple salad! Likewise, you'll get a real strange surprise if you make cole slaw and the only cabbage you have on hand is the red variety. (Don't do this. Trust me. It tastes just as delicious - but the color is so disturbing. I had to put up with jokes about Pepto-Bismol all through dinner that night.)

I think I'll continue to read about vegetable dyes through the winter. If you have any other titles to recommend, drop me a line.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Haiku funnies

A friend (who lives in warmer climes) and I occasionally trade wisecracking haiku when we're both plagued with insomnia. Here are a few I managed to save from twitter. Enjoy.

He gloats about warmth  
while the climate obliges.
Got a wool sweater?

The sky is still pink  
silently blanketing us
even blizzards tire.

Arizona spring
breezy, sunny, and some mist
but, cold and orange!

Your altiplano
discourages gardening;
it's not very warm.

June nights in Flagstaff
I shivered at altitude.
You call this Summer?

I prefer my snows
to the false summer promise
of Arizona!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Advancing the Pie and Preserves Agenda

Yes really. And beer, too.

I could blame the weather, or the fact that suddenly I have a ton of food coming out of my garden (happy surprise, that!) or the fact that I found a wonderful book on preserving fruit and making all kinds of yummy things like mint syrup and something intriguing called "fruit cheese" - but mostly, I want summer to stick around, and this November rain phenomenon arriving in mid-August is just NOT ON I tell you.

So I'm fighting it by advancing an agenda of fruit preserves, pie and other summery things as much as I can.

In the end, I managed to make a half dozen jars of delicious plum - raspberry jelly - or I guess really it's jam, because I left it chunky. A couple jars were gifted, and I ate the rest happily.