Friday, December 17, 2010

Big turnip

I planted a fall garden in August and then went to Houston in September for three months. While I was gone it got pretty cold, but a neighbor put some blankets on the garden for a few of the coldest days.  When I got back a week ago, it got very cold:  down below ten degrees.  But because there were four inches of snow and blankets over the beds, most of the vegetables survived, including this huge turnip, which weighs almost two pounds.

What do you do with a turnip this big?  I made a pot of soup along the lines of Leek and Potato soup, only it was Turnip and Onion soup.  I fried some bacon, then sauteed some onion in the fat, added the turnip and some water, and simmered till the turnip was soft. Then I pureed the soup and added some cream.  Good!

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Grissini are sort of like long skinny biscuits, although they are baked longer, so they get hard.  Maybe they are like long skinny biscotti then.  Or dog biscuits for people.  (I found out that dogs like grissini too.)

Anyway you use the same sort of ingredients you use in biscuit-making, and you make a stiff dough as for biscuits.  But then you take a piece about the size of a super ball or a marble, and you roll it out to make a long thin worm, and you bake it.  It's a lot like playing with playdough.

I found out that if you roll these worms out with two hands, gradually spreading your fingers apart as you roll, it makes them stretch to ten inches long, which is what the recipe specifies.  Well, maybe some of mine weren't quite that long.

Here's the recipe I used, from an old Gourmet:

Yield: Makes 32 breadsticks
Active Time: 1 hr
Total Time: 1 1/2 hr
1/2 cup rye flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus some extra for dusting the counter
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives (3 oz), pitted and finely chopped
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water to make egg wash

Special equipment: parchment paper
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment.

Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a large bowl, then stir in olives, buttermilk, and butter until a dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 5 or 6 times.  You might have to add more flour if the dough is too wet.

Halve dough and form each half into a 12-inch log. Cut each log into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a 10-inch-long rope and arrange 1/2 inch apart on lined baking sheets.

Brush breadsticks lightly with some of egg wash. Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes total. Cool on sheets on a rack 30 minutes.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Beware the Packsaddle Worm!

Today I got stung by a packsaddle worm. 

Here's a picture (I didn't take it; it's from a website):

It's been a while since I've had the "stingin' worm" experience.  Years ago, I used to get stung pretty frequently while looking at my corn patch.  I could never see the bug that got me.  Finally somebody told me that there were these almost invisible bugs in corn that sting very badly, called packsaddles or stinging worms. 

I forgot about them, though, because for years it didn't happen to me. Then it did, today.  I wonder why the stinging worms came back.  Maybe it's because we've had such a wet, hot year.  Today I researched the packsaddle worm online and found out that their scientific name is Acharea stimulea.  Presumably "stimulea" means "it hurts."

A PBS site about American words supplied some quotations illustrating the use of the word "packsaddle," rather like the OED does:

From 1884:   "I wonder if Harris ever saw a pack saddle. Well, its as putty as a rainbow, just like most all of the devil ' s contrivances, and when you crowd one of em on a fodderblade you ' d think that forty yaller jackets had stung you all in a bunch. "

From 1925 Dargan Highland Annals:   "You said I must git another big mess ' fore the frost struck ' em heavy, an ' that field was plum full o ' pack-saddlers. One stung me ever ' time I laid my hand on a roas ' in ' year. Hit hurts worse ' n a hornet fer a minute, an ' it ' s harder on a body ' s temper than a hornet is."

It does hurt pretty much like a hornet for a minute, but then it stops hurting; however, the little swollen bites remain.

Anyway, if you have a corn patch, don't let little kids go in there, and if you go in yourself, wear long sleeves and/or gloves. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

colorful produce

The other day I harvested a big bucket of vegetables.
Included in the haul are:

yellow squash (Early Straightneck)
sweet red Italian peppers (Jimmy Nardello variety)
green beans (McCaslan)
purple beans (Louisiana purple pod)
Cherry tomatoes (Matt's Wild Cherry)

luna moth

I saw a luna moth at the kitchen door the other night.  This wasn't the hugest one I've ever seen, but it was really cool looking.  It kept banging itself against the door, and the only way I could make it stop was to turn off all the lights inside.

Another visit to Three Sisters Farm

The Cookeville Master Gardener's group made a field trip last week to Three Sisters Farm near Cookeville.  The farm has a booth every Saturday at the Cookeville farmer's market.  There really are three sisters who do the work of growing the vegetables, along with their mother.

Here is Ashley, welcoming the group to the farm:

The first thing I noticed was baby figs growing on a fig tree. I think Wendy said it was a Brown Turkey fig:

Nearby was a companion plant to figs, arugula.  In Italy, figs are often served with arugula.  The arugula had been under a low tunnel or hoop house, which you can see in the background.

The vegetable garden is laid out in neat wide rows with mowed paths.

Although it was pretty hot that evening, everybody enjoyed walking around and looking at all the food.  We saw tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, okra, peppers, gourds, and these interesting long beans.

Long beans are in the same family with black-eyed peas, and they are easier to grow in hot weather than regular beans.  Insects don't seem to bother them. Some of them are almost two feet long!

Another unusual vegetable we saw was this red okra:

The farm also grows and sells flowers. The sunflowers were particularly spectacular when we visited.

Some of us went down to the barn to see some new baby goats.  They were very sweet and tame, and you could pick them up and cuddle them and kiss their lips, and they didn't mind at all, even though both were billies.

These two little billies are twins.

After the tour we had watermelon, and chips and salsa, and we sat in the shade and talked.  Trevor told me about his deer hunting plans for fall, and he climbed up into a deer stand in the backyard.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blueberry Ice Cream

Tom and I picked thirty pounds of blueberries yesterday, at Hidden Springs Orchard, near Cookeville, TN.  That amounted to about 8 gallons or so.  They were very beautiful and sweet.

I made jam this morning of course, using a pretty straightforward recipe:  9 cups of berries to five cups of sugar, cook to gelling point, ladle into jars, process 10 minutes.

Also this evening I made blueberry ice cream. OMG. The best ever.  Just the color alone would be reason to make this, but it is also awesomely good.

I used this recipe from an old Gourmet, but I messed with it a little:  I used creme fraiche for part of the cream.  Creme fraiche is sort of like sour cream.  I make it by warming cream to 86 degrees, then adding a little buttermilk (1/4 cup per quart of cream) and letting it sit on the counter overnight. It thickens and gets tart and is good in everything, savory or sweet.

Also, the recipe instructs you to strain the blueberry/sugar mixture after cooking it, but I didn't, and neither did most of the cooks who reviewed the recipe on the epicurious website.  The ice cream has a little texture of blueberry seeds and skins, but that seems perfectly ok.

So go to Hidden Springs Orchard, pick your blueberries and go to it. You only need two cups of blueberries for this recipe, so you could just buy them at the Cookeville farmer's market on Saturday from Brinna.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Container Garden

After Three Sisters Farm, I visited a very different sort of garden:  an urban garden in containers.

I first saw this garden a few years ago when the gardener had a party.  She has expanded it with more containers and more flowers and herbs and vegetables. She adds a few new containers every year.
The containers sit on and beside an asphalt driveway.

A galvanized tub makes a great container for plants.  Rather than drilling holes in the bottom, the gardener simply filled the bottom of the pot with shards of broken pots, to provide drainage.

These are tiny petunia-like flowers, but I'm not sure they are actually petunias.

One downside to container gardening is the fact that you have to water a lot.  But sedums like dry soil, so they're a good choice for containers with a sharp, well-drained soil mix.

Cute containers are one of the fun parts of container gardening:

Some people use old shoes, olive oil cans, plastic buckets, and wheelbarrows as planters.
Also you can make your own containers with hypertufa, a mix of concrete, perlite, and peat moss.

Some people like self-watering containers.  The Mother Earth News  had an article about how to make them.  You can also buy self-watering containers, for a bit more than it would cost to make them.

There are also water-retaining gels, or crystals, that you can mix with potting soil.  When you water, the gel swells up and then slowly releases water to the plant.  The pros and cons of this stuff are discussed in this article.

This gardener also has a water tank that collects water from her roof to water the garden with:

One of the most aesthetically pleasing things about this container garden is that some of the containers are on the ground, but some are propped up at a different level, on a chair or on rocks. This makes the garden seem more three dimensional than a garden that's planted in the ground.  I mean, all gardens exist in three dimensions, but a regular garden in the ground is planted mostly on one plane. With containers, there can be multiple planes, almost like terraces.

A neighbor gave the gardener these beautiful stones, and she is planning to lay out a terrace and some walls with them.

She said it was surprising how well the hostas have done in her containers.  Mostly we think of planting annuals in containers, but a lot of perennials like them too.  There was a huge rosemary plant spilling out of one pot, for example.

You can think of a container garden as a collection of really small raised beds.  The plants are easier to reach; the soil is loose and easy to weed; and each pot can have a mix in it that is specifically tailored to that plant's requirements.  Plants can be moved around fairly easily to make the most pleasing arrangement.  Makes you wonder why we work so hard to plant things in the ground!

Three Sisters Farm

I met some farmers at the farmer's market in Cookeville, and I liked their produce so much that I went to visit their farm.  It's called Three Sisters Farm, because three sisters and their mother are the farmers.

It's a beautiful small farm outside Cookeville.  There are extensive vegetable gardens, beautiful flowers (mostly perennials but also some annuals), hay fields, some berry bush plantings, and best of all:  goats!

This is a young Nubian goat.  A very friendly youngster.

Nubians have long, pendulous ears, rather like Brahma cattle.  More specifically, these goats are Anglo-Nubian goats, a breed that is a cross between an English dairy goat and a Middle Eastern breed.  Their milk has a high butterfat content.

Above is one of the nannies, or does.  And below is a billy, or buck.

Three Sisters Farm also has chickens.  The cutest one is a banty rooster.

He's tamer than any rooster I've ever handled.  He will let you pick him up and pet him.  None of my roosters were ever that gentle! Some of them fought me every time I went in the chicken pen.  This banty is not a fighting cock, as far as I could tell.  Good thing he lives on a peaceful farm.

The three sisters like to grow guords.  That was one of my earliest horticultural passions also.  A friend burned a picture of a goat onto one of their birdhouse guords:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Garden Growing Wild

In Christopher Alexander's book, A Pattern Language, he extols the beauty of the wild garden:

   "A garden which grows true to its own laws is not a wilderness, yet not entirely artificial either....In the garden growing wild, the plants are chosen, and the boundaries placed, in such a way that the growth of things regulates itself.  It does not need to be regulated by control.  But it does not grow fiercely and undermine the ways in which it is planted.  Natural wild plants, for example, are planted among flowers and grass, so that there is no room for so-called weeds to fill the empty spaces and then need weeding....A garden growing wild is healthier....The garden can be left alone, it will not go to ruin in one or two seasons...the gardens that have to be tended obsessively enslave a person to them....Therefore, grow grasses, mosses, bushes, flowers and trees in a way which comes close to the way that they occur in nature:  intermingled, without barriers between them, without bare earth, without formal flower beds."

I have been trying to achieve this for a long time, and I think I finally let it happen this year.

The garden is an amazing jumble of blooming color.

How did it happen?  In the past I had the jumble of plants all right, but there were a lot more weeds and fewer blooms.  I changed a couple of things, and I think those changes made a big difference.

First, I had some trees to the uphill east of the garden taken down, so that more sunlight reaches it.  That helped the irises, peonies, and roses bloom more.

Second, I filled all the beds as closely as possible with perennials.  In the past some of the four or five beds were half empty, and weeds did grow in those spaces. I didn't buy many new perennials; I just divided the ones I already had, mostly daylilies, peonies,  and bearded iris and Siberian irises.  I used to think you had to have a lot of different kinds of flowers in a "good" perennial garden, but now I know that you can just keep dividing the ones you have, and the effect will be really lush.  I also found out that it's better if you use a closer spacing than what the directions say:  instead of fifteen inches apart for daylilies, for example, put them twelve inches apart.

Third, I have a couple of biennial and annual species that seed themselves, sometimes prolifically:  Dame's Rocket, nigella, a few corn poppies, columbines, and hollyhocks, plus some ones whose names I'vc forgotten.  I sometimes help these seed themselves by shaking the seedpods around the place when they go to seed.  The birds plant the poppies I think, because they crop up in surprising places like the vegetable garden.

I used to try to make foxgloves grow, but it's too much trouble:  they don't really seed themselves.  These self-seeding biennials and annuals fill in the spaces between the perennials.  To help them, I don't use a lot of mulch; that would prevent the seeds from reaching the soil.

Finally, I actually started fertilizing my garden with alfalfa pellets mainly.  The main missing nutrient was nitrogen, and alfalfa is an organic nitrogen source.  I sprinkled it around the garden last summer and again in March.  The roses in particular have done a lot better since I started fertilizing them.  I have two David Austen roses, Heritage and Gertrude Jekyll, plus some wilder ones that I found around Putnam County and rooted.

(In the past I've used regular chemical fertilizer, but it seemed to encourage to much rank weed growth.)

Also I've learned not to be afraid to try to divide pretty much anything.  I started out with two peony bushes, and now I have many.  It takes a couple of years for a new division to make flowers, but it's worth it.  And it's the best way to get the many plants you need for that full, lush, wild garden effect.

The wild garden style suits my situation since I am not at my garden for months at a time.  I spend most of my gardening time growing vegetables to eat, but I love to look at, photograph, draw, and give away flowers.  So the fact that I spent almost no time at all on this garden, and yet it looks so beautiful, seems wonderful to me, like a gift.  I think I would do it this way even if I were here all the time.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Iris, goddess of the rainbow

The goddess Iris has appeared on Brangus Lane, in myriad forms.

She mostly takes the form of bearded irises.  There are a lot of blue ones, which is good because the blue iris is the Tennessee state flower.

I have an old type of blue one in my garden.  It is smaller than the one above in my neighbor's garden, and the blue is more muted and pastel.  I like the older irises for their quieter colors and smaller flowers.  They look more natural in a wild garden like mine than the "irises on steroids" that you see  in catalogues.

I also have some bicolored irises in my garden:  the standards are light blue, and the falls are sort of purple.  They've been in my garden for about twenty years, and I can't remember where I got them.

I also have a very old yellow type that I found growing in front of an abandoned house in Cookeville.  I love it because it is so fragrant and petite.

Ok, now back to irises on steroids, the more modern hybrids.  There are lots of them growing in my neighbors' gardens.  Here's a bicolored one.

Here's a yellow one that is a much deeper, more saturated yellow than the old ones in my garden.

There's even a "black" iris, which is really more like a very dark purple.

All of the above irises are bearded irises.  But there are other irises that are beardless.  One that is common in my neighborhood (because I gave a lot of it away) is Iris pseudacorus.  It has a different shape, and it only comes in yellow.

I have mixed feelings about Iris pseudacorus.  On the one hand, it is very easy to grow; it loves wet places especially.  I planted some down by Bear Creek, almost in the creek bed, and it thrived there.  It is used, in fact, in water purification systems:  the plant sucks excess nutrients out of water, for example from fertilizer or animal waste run-off.  It is the original "fleur-de-lis," and all of us Who Dats therefore like it.

But in an ordinary garden, the small clump that you planted grows and grows until it's a very big clump.  And then it's hard to dig up and get rid of:  it's strongly rooted, which is a good thing when it's in a creek bed and a lot of water is rushing over its roots.  Also, it doesn't have the sweet fragrance that the bearded irises have.

So from now on I'm only going to plant it where it belongs, near or in water.  You can see a beautiful stand of it growing this way at Cheekwood in Nashville.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Flora Obscura book

I just made a book on the Blurb website called Flora Obscura. It's a book of pinhole photographs of flowers from my garden.

You can view it here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blossoms and Fruit

Last fall I planted a wildflower mix in my front yard, where the grass had died due to drought.  I didn't go to much trouble:  I just scattered the seed on the ground and sort of chopped it in with a rake.  I didn't weed or water or mulch or fertilize.

This spring it has started blooming.  I"m not sure what all the flowers in it are, but they are pretty.

I think this might be some kind of wild phlox.

I'm pretty sure that these are coreopsis:

And there are several colors of batchelor buttons, including this unusual dark purple one:

Some more are getting ready to bloom. I think they are cosmos.

Also the collard plants I set out last fall are blooming. They are pretty, and maybe Tom will collect the seed from them while I'm in TN.

We planted a little tangerine tree (aka mandarin orange) in the front yard, and it has very fragrant blossoms:

Amazingly, baby tangerines are also forming already!

You're supposed to fertilize your citrus four times during the growing season, and early May is one of the times, so I need to do this soon.  I'm also keeping it well-watered as it gets established.