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Garden End of July

This spring was a rough start for my garden.  Right after I planted we had over a week of rain.  Many of the seeds must have just rotted in the ground.  I replanted the beans when only three sprouted and the second time got better results.  Slugs ate every one of my lettuce sprouts during the rain and something will not leave my basil alone.  Not sure if I will get any basil!

The mystery peas are doing the best of all the garden veggies.  The indian corn is also fairly happy with the frequent rain and hot days.  Lia is about 46″ tall.  The corn is well over her head and not tasseling yet.  Lia has discovered the joy of eating raw peas right off the vine.  She is very proud of the peas she helped plant.

Even the flowers I sowed in the garden did poorly this year.  I have a few zinnias and bachelor buttons, but not as good as previous years.  The rain was really hard on the seeds.  Beets and carrots suffered similarly.  The tomatoes are producing a few yummy fruits and the pumpkins that managed to sprout are coming along well.  The volunteers are all the sunflowers we have this year.  Not a single seed came up and I planted nearly 20.  Depressing.  Yet, the weeds always do so well.  Here are my first Early Girl tomatoes.

On a bright note, I saw a monarch butterfly on the 27th in the apple orchard when I was mowing.  Perhaps people’s efforts to plant milkweed are paying off.  This seems to be a good butterfly year, there are many varieties present in the gardens and on wild flowers.

Mystery of the Peas Solved

A few weeks ago I blogged about planting peas from a 5 lb bag of organic whole dried green peas that I purchased at the health food store last winter.  I bought them to sprout for salad but didn’t really like the flavor of the sprouts.  I’ve been rehydrating them and eating them like raw peas, which isn’t too bad.  I also made mushy peas with them and that was good.  So I decided to put some in the garden and see how the unknown, mystery peas developed.

Well, I’m amazed!  These are the strangest peas ever!  They started out as normal sprouts, but then began sending out extraordinary amounts of tendrils.  They didn’t make any leaves at all until they were almost a foot tall!  Just huge amounts of tendrils.  The poor things looked so desperate for something to grab on to that I ran strings on poles.  They grappled on and kept reaching for the sun.  In late June, these crazy peas started to bloom.  They had lovely creamy-white flowers in profusion.  Soon baby pea pods formed.  Still the plants climbed and produced profusions of tendrils.  I opened a couple half-ripe pods yesterday and the peas are delicious.  The plants are covered with pods and still making flowers.

I did a little research and discovered these are a new type of pea called hypertendril (good name!)  They are a natural hybrid developed from a mutation called parsley peas.  The benefits of the hypertendril mutation are, among others, the peas don’t require trellis support, they hold each other up, and the lack of leaves increases airflow to prevent mildew and other diseases.  They are also heavy producers and easy to harvest.  What a surprise for me!  I had never heard of hypertendril peas.

This variety is pretty amazing.  The minor support from the stakes and strings has made a wall of peas with pods hanging on both sides that are very easy to see and pick.  But as a sprout pea, hypertenrils are certainly not the right choice since they have hardly any leaves.  I serendipitously stumbled onto this type of pea and am glad of it.  There is a variety of hypertendril called magnolia blossom that has gorgeous pink and purple flowers.  Next year I’m going to try them in the garden.

Ancient Grains

Farro with dried cranberries and sunflower seeds

Recently I decided to try some of the specialty ancient grains available in local stores.  The term ancient grains refers to cereals that were discovered and eaten millenia ago by our ancestors.  Many have fallen from use in modern times, replaced by more factory-farming friendly plants.  Judging from the variety available even in such an outpost of civilization as central Maine, the ancient grain business is good.  The grains I tried were all organic, meaning non-GMO, no pesticides or herbicides used for growing, storing or processing.  I decided to try kamut and spelt in addition to farro, a grain I’ve been eating for a year or so.  In the future I will try others.

The three grains are relatives of modern wheat.  They were first gathered from wild plants over 8000 years ago.  Man (as in most likely–women) learned to plant the wild seeds they gathered and cultivated the grain.  This provided a more secure food source for early communities.  Farro originated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and was eaten in Egypt.  It has a softer texture than some wheats, especially when it is pearled.  A semi-pearled grain has had some of the tough outer membrane, the bran, removed.  I use semi-pearled Italian farro because it cooks faster than the whole grain, yet still retains an impressive nutritional value.  A 1/4 dry cup serving of semi-pearled farro has 170 calories, 0 fat, 0 sodium, 35 g of carbs with 5 g of dietary fiber, 0 sugar and 7 g of protein and also some iron.  It is not a complete protein since it does not contain a full supply of lysine and should be paired with another lysine source.

Farro is delicious.  It is a very nutritious alternative to rice, especially white rice which is a nutrition wasteland.  Farro has a smooth, creamy, rice-like texture with a slightly nutty flavor from the retained bran coat and a wonderful fruity, sweet fragrance.  I like to cook it with a handful of dried cranberries and some raw sunflower seeds, simmer in three times its volume of water, covered, for 15 mins until al dente, drain before serving.  A perfect breakfast or side dish for pork, turkey or chicken.  For a more authentic and jaw-exercising experience, try whole grain farro which should be soaked before cooking to soften the bran layer.

Kamut with a soup spoon for size comparison

The next culinary adventure is kamut.  Enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians and originating around the Nile, kamut grains or berries are huge.  They are 3/8″ to 7/16″ long when cooked.  Kamut reminds me of tiny beans.  It has the same combination of snappy hull with soft insides and enough size to make its presence known in your mouth.  The taste is more wheat-like for sweetness, but starchy and similar to beans.  The kamut I tried is whole grain, with the full bran coat retained.

Cooking whole grain cereals requires more time.  The berries are soaked overnight in at least twice their volume of water.  I place them in the fridge to soak.  In the old days before refrigeration, I suspect our forebears discovered alcohol through this soaking of the grain.  I imagine some slacking hut-wife left the grain to soak too long, (several days at hut temperature) and it fermented.  The woman probably drained off the water with the alcohol content into another container and, because she was so lazy, just left the liquid sitting around the fire.  Then the hut-husband arrived home from hunting rabbits and birds, an activity that apparently can lead to a powerful thirst, he grabbed the jug of fermentation water for a drink and became the first man to fall in love with home brew.

After soaking the grains overnight, drain the liquid and use it to water something, then add the grain to three times its volume of water and simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes until it is al dente.  Drain excess liquid before serving.  I tried kamut with a little salt and butter, yummy!  The whole bran definitely provides chewing exercise.  I would substitute this grain for any bean recipe or serve it as a side dish sweetened up by cooking with any dried fruit, including tomatoes.  A serving of kamut provided an excellent nutritional source for ancient Egyptians.  A dry 1/4 cup has 160 calories, 1 g fat (not saturated or trans fat,) 0 sodium, 32 g of carbs with 4 g being dietary fiber and 4 g sugars, and 7 g of protein.  Again, this grain is lacking in lysine and should be paired with an appropriate amino acid source to form a complete protein for vegetarians.  It is also a source of thiamine and niacin.

Piping hot spelt with a bit of salt and a pat of melted butter

Finally, I tried spelt.  This is a better known type of wheat, at least to me since I’d heard of it.  Spelt is related to durum wheat and came from the Middle East.  Its use spread to Europe and was especially popular in Germany where it fed the population during the Middle Ages and is still grown today.  The berries are smaller than either kamut or farro, very nutty and sweet and lead to plenty of chewing with the bran of the whole grain.

Spelt is prepared in the same fashion as kamut, soaked overnight in twice its volume of water for best results, drained then simmered, covered in three times the volume of water for 40-60 minutes to al dente.  Drain the excess liquid.  The grain is delicious served warm with some salt and melted butter.  The sweetness pairs well with fruits and light meats.  I even tried it with melted cheddar and loved it.  Mixed with cinnamon, a bowl of spelt did not last long when given to my two granddaughters aged 5 and 2.  They gobbled it up and wanted more!

This ancient grain, like the other two, is nutritionally superior to most modern starchy side dishes.  A 1/4 dry cup serving has 180 calories, 2 g fat ( not saturated or trans,) 0 sodium, 38 g of carbs with 5 g dietary fiber and 2 g sugars and 7 g protein.  Spelt is also low on lysine but is higher in many minerals than the other two grains I tried.  It is a good source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese, among others.

Since all three of these grains are related to wheat, they contain gluten and are not for gluten intolerant diets.  I pity the ancestors with celiac disease who had to try and survive on wheat grains.  I wonder if they figured out what made their guts hurt and tried alternate foods?  Luckily, I love gluten and can digest it, so will be adding these heirloom wheat varieties to my diet.

Hazelnuts In Bloom

The three young hazelnut trees I’ve planted in the orchard all survived the winter and are in bloom.  Each plant has male and female flowers.  The males are long catkins filled with pollen.  The females are tiny, round, bud-like forms with projecting bright red styles.  Hazelnuts are wind pollinators, which explains why such copious amounts of pollen are produced.  The plants must cross-pollinate to produce nuts, they are not self-pollinating.  The woods are full of wild hazelnuts in bloom; some of their pollen could also easily reach my little trees.

The largest hazelnut bush grows in leaps and bounds every year.  This spring I trimmed out some of the oldest, least productive limbs.  I gave the trimming to my rabbits.  Bunnies love hazelnut wood!  This largest plant has produced a crop of nuts for the past 3 years or so.  This year it is covered in blooms, so if all goes well I will have hazelnuts to eat in September.

The other two trees are smaller.  One, the same age as the the largest bush, is only starting to thrive after its transplant a few years ago.  The other hazelnut survived the second winter.  The white bags on this tree are an experiment I conducted over the winter.  Last year, the poor sapling was nibbled by deer.  The original leader was nipped off and a side branch has become the new leader.  I had heard of placing human hair in cloth bags and tying them to the branches to deter deer.  When my husband got a haircut last fall, I collected the hair and tucked it in some small muslin bags I had on hand.  To my surprise, the tree was not touched by the deer last winter, although they had plenty of opportunity.  So perhaps this strategy actually works!  I’m glad, since this was an expensive little hazelnut, purchased from Stark Bros. nursery.  The other two were quite inexpensive and came from The Arbor Day Foundation.  I bought the Stark tree because it is supposed to produce large nuts.  Hazelnuts are my favorite for eating, so I’m rooting for these trees to do well.

 

Stump Experiment Revisited

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Subject stump 9/2015

Last September 13, I posted about an experiment I decided to conduct on a method for naturally removing tree stumps.  The subject stump is of a sweet cherry tree that had recently been cut.  There were several of the same species in the area so I used one as the experiment and one as a control.a1

The experimental process involved drilling several holes in the subject stump and filling them with 45-0-0, or full nitrogen, fertilizer.  The stump was then watered and covered with a plastic grain sack.  The covering was held down with rocks, but not made air tight.  The control stump was just left open to the air and not touched in any way.

This past year had warmer than normal temperatures throughout the seasons with two months of extreme drought in July and August.  No new growth sprouted from either stump, so I believe both are dead.  First we will look at the control stump to gauge any changes.

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Control stump 9/2015

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Control stump 11/2016

This stump has darkened in color and the oozing tree sap is gone.  Otherwise, the control stump looks pretty much as it did last fall.  The wood is still hard and solid.  It is not possible for me to push a screwdriver down into the wood.

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Control stump 11/2016

Peeling back the old plastic grain bag reveals that the experimental stump has undergone some changes.  While the wood is not soaked, it is uniformly damp.  The surface has a powdery coating that seems to be made up of dirt-like material.  Fungus is thriving on the surface, including an orange fruiting body of a mushroom-like fungus.  Much of the surface of the stump is soft. a2
When I drilled the holes in the stump, they were made in solid, hard wood. The wood in the areas surrounding the holes is now soft and punky. I can push the screwdriver at least 1/2″ into the surface near the holes.a5

Around the outside edge of the stump the wood is still mostly solid.  The hard wood extends about 2″-3″ into the stump before punky wood starts.

It seems to me that there is a definite difference between the subject and the control.  The subject stump is decomposing more quickly.  There is no way to be certain that the accelerated rotting is due to the added nitrogen, the plastic covering, or both.  I should have used a third stump that had nitrogen in drilled holes, but no covering to be more certain of the results.  The fact that the wood around the drill holes on the subject stump is all soft now could indicate that the added nitrogen does speed the decomposition process.

The results of the experiment are enough to convince me to treat all the remaining cherry stumps to a dose of nitrogen and a plastic grain bag.  It certainly couldn’t hurt!

First Snow and First Eggs

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Time to finish cleaning up the garden!

We awoke today to the first measurable snow of the season, about 1/2 inch of wet accumulation.  The white won’t last long.  The next few days will have temperatures in the 40sF with rain.  It’s pretty to see, dusting the trees, carpeting the lawns.  A warning of what is to come.

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Winter dusts the harvest decorations

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Snow never stops Otto from enjoying his favorite ball

The first snow of the winter is later than last year by about three weeks.  We have enjoyed a very warm autumn.  The ground has not frozen yet.  I am still harvesting the late apples and they are in good, hard condition.  I also collected my hazelnut crop, a total of eighteen nuts! b6

Next year should bring a better harvest.  Only the largest hazelnut bush produced nuts.  Hazelnuts require good cross pollination.  There are two other hazelnuts struggling to produce flower catkins.  They should provide enough to fertilize my largest plant next spring, as long as the deer don’t chew on them again this winter.  I trimmed my husband’s hair last night and collected the clippings.  Legend holds that hanging little cloth bags of human hair in the branches of trees will stop the deer from eating the twigs.  I’m giving it a try.b1

The pullets hatched in May and June have just started laying.  There are a total of thirteen hens.  Every morning the lights in their pen come on around four.  This gives them enough supplemental light to stimulate laying during the dark, dreary days of late fall and early winter.  We are getting an average of eight eggs per day.

b5The shell color on the eggs being produced by these young Ameraucana hens is lovely.   My latest flock is all silver or black plumage color.  I believe the blacks produce the deepest blue shade on their eggshells.  I breed specifically for the bluest shell color and things seem to be heading in the right direction!

 

Garden Bounty

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After weeks of drought, we finally got rain yesterday.  There is more rain forecast for today, so exciting!  It is very frustrating to watch thunderstorms go around or evaporate before they reach us.  The poor plants were suffering.  I had to water several times to keep the garden going.  The effort was worth it because we have a bountiful supply of vegetables.

I’ve been eating beet greens, have made some pickled beets and plan to make more soon.  There is plenty of lettuce for salads and sandwiches.  The wax bean harvest is in full swing.  So far I’ve canned ten pints of beans.  More beans are waiting for processing.g3

Growing the sweet peppers closer together in partial shade has really paid off.  The plants are big, full and heavy with fruit.  I got the first pepper last evening.  They are supposed to be red bells, but are delicious when still green as well.  I love peppers on pizza and there’s nothing like fresh pepper right from the garden for supper!  As can be seen, my half of the pizza is veggie.g4

The tomato jungle is not as thick as some years due to the drought.  There are still plenty of tomatoes being produced.  These are so sweet.  Sometimes I make a meal just from one big tomato with some salad dressing.g2

The bonus flowers that I grow along the fence in the vegetable garden are blooming beautifully.  It is lovely to cut a few for a fresh arrangement on the dining table.  The bright colors of the zinnias remind me of candy.   g5