...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sometimes they come back...

And no, I don't mean zombies in a horror flick. I'm talking about those spring flowers that rise again each year from a bulb that keeps house in your garden soil.

Here you see the mini-garden that surrounds my front lawn's street lamp. I sat doing a spring cleaning on it a while back; and as I did, my across-the-street neighbor wandered over to see my work. I offered her some of the Iris rhizomes (like bulbs) that are now spreading west of the garden bed. It's not the best time of the year to move bulbs--fall is--but I'm not picky about whether I get an immediate bloom or not. I have plenty of other eye-candy ready to bloom out in the front yard so I'm fine with moving things around now.

She chuckled and shook her head. "No thanks. I'm the one who brought those Irises over in the first place. That was a few years before you moved here."

The spotty showing of purple hyacinths were also here before we bought the property, but the tulips are my own addition. Last year, I received the red tulips around Easter in a temporary potted display. I chose this spot to replant them as it had so little color in the early spring. They held their blooms nicely through their typical season. Obviously, they likewise saw fit to return this year, so I'm adding to that tulip population with yet another Easter color--a grouping of yellow ones that graced our table before moving to this more permanent home.

I also moved a couple of the Iris rhizomes inside the circle, but a few were right under the ring, so for now, I trimmed back the foliage and am considering whether they should stay or find a new home, possibly near the mailbox. For one option, I could reconstruct the rock-filled ring to a more organic design that pulls the Iris spread gracefully into it's dimensions. For another, I could briefly pull up the ring and move those rhizomes, then reform the tight, tidy circle minus the overflow. Fortunately, these recurring flowers don't put me in a panic of urgency as they'll keep returning year after year, leaving me time to make a decision without a great rush--again, as long as I'm willing to sacrifice their most current blooming potential.

One thing I must keep in mind, however, in the overall plan for this little flower patch is that these new tulips might not naturalize. In other words, they may be lovely for a few years, but die down after that. Bulbs that naturalize, however, return year after year and even spread out over a larger territory. (As in the previous dilemma with the Iris population.)

Two weeks later, and despite frequent torrential rains, the new residents are well established--proving how very easy bulb-growing is for the novice gardener. I'm far more a vegetable gardener than an ornamental one, but bulbs are often the least fussy of all your gardening options. That said, I'm offering several links to bulb-gardening info that is vastly superior to my own experimental know-how.

Some great how-to videos for bulb planting both in the ground and in containers:

A good link for gathering ideas for bulb-planting based on what grows best in your region:

A nice listing of bulb options along with a bit of explanation regarding the distinction between naturalizing and perennializing bulbs:

A diverse list of questions and answers to Iris care along with links to more info:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sunrise, Sunset...

The higher you go, the more lovely is the sunset.

This view is not available from any position that involves scurrying in the gridlock of the streets below. Sometimes we suburban gardeners should give the ground a good preliminary soaking, but then step away for a couple of days to find again our inspiration. Especially now. Now is when the hard work has begun, but the bounty of harvest is most remote.

Although this link is to a blog post given on an Independence Day almost 4 years ago and made from my other blog--my personal one, it feels like a good one to share on this day before Easter.

And now may the deep peace of grace as it wafts unexpectedly down the furrows of perseverance bless all inhabitants there!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

One More TIme...

Spring. A time of beginnings and endings running parallel.

Even as I pluck the first leaves of fresh lettuce, tender and new--

even then, I'm visiting the freezer for the last few bags of strawberries plucked, washed and frozen a little less than a year ago.

Those last few berries, thawed for this strawberry pie, commemorate an Easter holiday family gathering. And, isn't Easter a beautiful time to have the old meet the new in a meal? So, I dug through my file of loose recipes and found the one for this pie. It's on a little slip of pink paper. I got it for free from a pile laying casually on the sales counter at the berry patch two summers ago. It's rumpled a bit, with a little flour dust and an inky spot of strawberry juice on its ruffled edges. Obviously, I use it a lot. It's simple, but elegant. It's simply called:

Strawberry Pie

1 c sugar

2 1/4 Tbs cornstarch

4 c strawberries (washed, hulled, and drained if from frozen)

1 Tbs butter or margarine

Pie crust

Mix all ingredients and put in the pie crust. Cover with top crust. Bake in 425 degree oven for 40 minutes.

Happy baking!

Monday, April 18, 2011

From Garden to Kitchen...and Beyond

Some items make only a pitstop in the kitchen when they leave the garden. In fact, some people grow "dye gardens" simply to raise things like Madder Root and Cosmos to use as textile dyes. Museums and old manor houses (like the Conner Prairie one first visited in the last post) actually have outbuildings dedicated exclusively to fiber work. Here, a huge loom occupies half the building while a fireplace and large spinning wheel fill the other side. The fire place, however, is there for more than just the spinner's or weaver's comfort on chilly days. It is utterly functional. Wool must be carded (cleaned), spun and then dyed near heat in a pot of dye-water near coals hot enough for the color to set. Then it is hung to dry in the rafters. These artfully wound skeins are the result of the yarn being wrapped on a niddy-noddy. (Niddy-noddies are the wooden tools you see hanging alongside the spun yarn.) Most of us now, however, prefer to use more modern kitchen appliances and techniques to dye wool. I ordered some undyed roving from Wind Rose Fiber Studio on Etsy and discovered the store's related blog has a couple of good posts on dying your own wool, given here as a link: http://windrosefiberstudio.blogspot.com/p/dyeing-tutorials.html

Besides that one, another good blog post for information on dyeing your own wool is this one:

http://knittingwithsandrasingh.blogspot.com/2010/10/plant-dyeing-wool-yarns.html I'm spinning my yarn fairly well now, for larger chunkier pieces anyway. I made the orange, gray and blue yarn shown in this piece of knitting. The next step naturally takes me back to the garden. This season I'll study on it--as is always a good way to begin; but next year, I may dedicate a part of the yard to be a "dye garden" of my own.

Happy coloring!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cooking Breakfast...in 1836

Who says homeschool field trips are only fun and educational for the children involved? Nolan and I visited a working village set in the "year of our Lord 1836" at a living history museum called Conner Prairie. Many folks from this area are quite familiar with the place, as school groups visit it daily and in droves through the months of April and May. The gal at the ticket booth told us all about it. "The only thing I get tired of is as they're leaving--they all go into the prairie store and buy harmonicas. Then they all come here to the lobby and play them...simultaneously." But once you leave that lobby and its companion museum hall you enter the world of the 1800's complete with characters who will tell you all about their "lives" in this prairie town.

One of the challenges this time of year, for those who were naturally living "subsistence gardening" lives over 100 years ago, is the lack of fresh garden produce in early to mid-April, when last year's stored produce is waning pretty low. But, a few things are up and growing already. One of them being the asparagus you see here.

A step from the backyard garden into the airy kitchen alongside it finds village cooks preparing typical early spring breakfast fare.

After a little conjuring at this table, an asparagus omelet is ready for fireside frying. According to the chef, all that was needed to create this omelet was egg, fresh asparagus, a little salt and some water. Sounds simple enough... Garden Helper quickly learned, though, that unlike today's challenges, the toughest part of cooking in 1836 was gathering those ingredients: going to the garden for the asparagus, to the chicken coop for the eggs, and worst of all--to the well for the water. He tried to pull up a bucket of water hand-over-hand on the rope and discovered that a bucket of water is very heavy if managed this way. A farmhand told him that cranking up the bucket helps, but that he should consider a visit to a "wealthier" cottage if he wanted to experiment with the easiest well apparatus of all, the well owned by the village rich: a pump well.

Garden Helper took him up on his advice and learned a pump well is indeed the best choice if the money's there to install it. At that house, a different sort of breakfast was cooking, again one dependent on the season's offerings. Candied violets.

Violets were growing everyplace that offered a little shade, but they are very much a spring flower, so this particular dish was very much a spring delicacy.

Garden Helper even had the opportunity to help transfer these sugared violets to a serving plate, while the aroma of fresh ground coffee filled the kitchen. Sugar and coffee were both "rich man" staples only found in this wealthy kitchen, another big difference between an 1836 kitchen and our kitchens today.

The last cottage breakfast stop showed us another option for early spring garden fare: rhubarb bread. While today, we might use a recipe like the one this link provides...


...in days gone by, when the rhubarb reddens up in the garden...

...recipes for breads and pies were taken from books proudly and handily displayed on the mantle by old, practiced cooks. A cook might go the better part of a lifetime collecting just a few books of recipes, not to mention the cooking utensils we'd never consider needing today. For instance, this seasoned cook told a visitor about the lid lifter she had the blacksmith make for her. An iron hook that caught the lid of her baking pan, this lid lifter made it possible for her to take an iron lid covered in coals (see bottom right of pic) off the pan to check the progress of her baked goods. "After all, nothing can bake evenly without heat both above and below, you know."

What a greater appreciation we developed for the ease of modern cooking methods--but also for the simplicity and purity of historic ones.

Happy brunch!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sabbath Rest

From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth...

Psalm 50:2
Be Zion today.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Garden Pilgrimage: Outreach, Inc. Urban Garden Installation Day

I love these people! (OK. I just had to get that outburst off my chest first, now on to the blog...) Today's garden pilgrimage takes us to inner city Indianapolis to the Outreach, Inc. house, a facility designed to give assistance to 14 to 24-year-old street youth in the Indy area. For more information on them, follow the link. http://www.outreachindiana.org/ Until today, my main role there as a volunteer has been to help one night a month in serving meals to the clients at the big old house they use as a drop-in center. Today, however, I went to a breakfast drop, and after a breakfast of sausage links, cinnamon rolls, cereal and fruit, a few of us trouped to the back yard to continue work on their garden. Yesterday, another group of volunteers tilled the soil, put down a layer of newspaper to discourage weeds, and then added mulch, manure and more soil to create this nice raised bed. We finished the prep work this morning.

E., the staff member in the foreground, and P., another volunteer working along the fence, set about marking a grid for the garden. We're using a "square foot garden" design, although we decided to go with a little larger grid size here.

I., a client of the center, helped mark the cross grid, while C., another client took over the photography!

(Had to get a posed shot in here, too, just for fun.)

Then, as P. surveyed the perennials bed, I. and I laid the rest of the string to divide the garden into blocks. C., the tall guy standing in this shot, was a large part of yesterday's tilling and installing of the raised bed framework.

We planned our seed planting by block, including a lot of early spring favorites: carrots, spinach, onions, radishes and what I'm holding: peas.

As we placed the seed packets in their assigned slots, a few of the clients looked down speculatively, asking, "So are we actually going to eat from what grows here sometimes on drop-in meals?"

"Yep," we said.

Some of them grinned at that idea. Armed with this info, several of the clients, including J. and B., planted their "likes" from amongst these early spring options. B., also helped out by spreading earthworm dung in the furrows. I., standing next to me, said "You know bat dung is good, too."

"I've heard that," I said. "But it's crazy expensive."

"I know," he said, "a bag same size as that earth worm bag would probably cost you $25."

Meanwhile, C., our photographer, volunteered to anyone who cared to listen that she'd be happy to "fix greens" for us once the spinach was ready to pick. I thought, these city kids know more about all this than most of us would give them credit for knowing, but I kept that thought to myself. I didn't know if the praise might embarrass them.

Next week, they'll plant the second row of blocks, and the succession planting will offer them a longer growing season for these spring crops. The back row along the fence we left open for tomatoes and cucumbers later in the summer.

B., seen here holding the hoe, stood next to me. Soon we were both staring down--seeing more with our minds' eyes than the bare dirt that is there now. "Aren't there supposed to be certain flowers that are good to grow near vegetables, too?" he asked in his soft-spoken manner. "Yes," I said, "and I hope to bring some seeds for them next month. Maybe some zinnias and nasturtiums, to grow where the radishes are growing now. They'll go in later." We talked about how long it would take for the different things to be ready for harvest. First the radishes, then the green onions, then spinach and peas, finally carrots in a couple of months. I pointed to a corner block. The radishes would finish their time in that block fairly quickly, and I had that spot staked out as a good one for the zinnias. I didn't even think to mention the beautiful butterflies they might find hanging around those zinnias later. Maybe I'll just let that be a surprise...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sabbath Rest--When Rest Is Undesireable

Not always is "rest" a relief. Sometimes rest is forced by harsh circumstances of life. Like a child being sent to bed grumbling, assigned to lie restive on the bottom bunk in a confining set of bunk beds. Not even allowed the top bunk--where late evening sunlight might entertain, dancing on the ceiling--no, the bottom one. The one that makes you feel like you've been put to bed in a box. Sometimes, the nearer life's "springs" look on the calendar, the more distant they appear through the actual back doors of our hopes. Against the discouragement of such moments, the following prayer by Phillips Brooks, an Episcopalian bishop from the 1800's, takes the devotional slot this week. Do not pray for easier lives; Pray to become stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then your life shall be no miracle, But you shall be a miracle. Every day, you shall wonder At that which is wrought in you By the grace of God.

What to do about that unhappy bunk bed confinement? In this cabin, the child's response is inspiring, and affirms the words of Christ in Matthew 21:16 And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Happy Trails

Spring Break...a concept unfamiliar to most hard core gardeners if it includes travel. "Isn't spring a little too busy to be thinking of traipsing off for a week?" asks the garden club reproachfully. Despite the busy season, a little pre-planning can offer the opportunity to take advantage of those spring break discounts without requiring you to put off installing the garden until you return home.

I, for instance, got some seedlings planted and then put a teenage boy in charge of watering and turning my seedling pots in the windowsills. Overall, everything fared pretty well. Although one pot of seedlings died away, the rest are thriving, grown taller and sturdier since I saw them last. What's more, that extra week has now put the external temperatures high enough that a few of those seedlings--like the spinach and radish container--can now move outside.

And as a treat, rather than garden pictures, I'll share from the vacation album some of the beautiful pics of Blue Ridge, Georgia, ones thathitched a ride home with us via our camera when spring break 2011 was finished.

Happy travels!