Thursday, May 17, 2018

Rainbows...

The sound of rain falling soothed me as I lay in the hammock on the porch last night. It brought just one tenth of an inch, but I was glad the storm did not entirely pass us by again.

On Monday evening I headed to Holton (nearly an hour drive) to give a presentation for a garden club, and left early (just as refreshments were served) because of thunderstorm watches and warnings. I drove nearly halfway home in heavy rain, listening to reports of thunderstorm warnings -- complete with threat of hail -- for my area. As I drove I calculated that I would reach the warning area at about the time the warning was supposed to expire. So I was relieved I wouldn't be driving in quarter-size hail.

But alas, I reached the area to discover that no rain had fallen. I arrived home as a sprinkle spotted the sidewalk, and nothing more. I enjoyed the somewhat cooler weather that came with the storm system, but felt frustrated by the continuing lack of moisture. I tried not to let the lack of rain dampen my enthusiasm, but I'm not supposed to have to water regularly in May.

Get used to it, Sister. You're going to have to deal with a lot of "not supposed to" weather situations as the climate continues shifting. But the iris are in bloom, prettily colored and fragrant flowers named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris.

And the rain last night helped to soothe other wounds, where I've been rubbed raw by the idiocy that seems rampant in this world.

Thank goodness for rain and rainbows.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Summer Settles In

Ah, I think it's safe to go gardening.

At least I know what season it is...

Summer. And it doesn't look like that's going to change. Finally, a little stability.

The peas are starting to climb. The Montmorency cherry tree has burst into bloom. It appears to be safe to plant beans, maybe even the tomatoes. And we've had a little rain, with a little more in the forecast. Asparagus is popping up. We've survived third or fourth Winter (I lost track).

And I've finished the final edit on my book, so now I can spend the entire day gardening. Look out Weeds, here I come!

I cut the first rhubarb of the season yesterday. Actually, it was the first rhubarb harvest in years. I'd transplanted it from one place to another, and it just struggled to stay alive for a few years (it was probably the walnut trees that kept it from thriving). Now it's in a more hospitable place and thriving. It now has two tiny little companions from One Heart Farm. When I asked if they had any rhubarb, he said yes, he'd started it from seed just because he wanted rhubarb. He had them in little four-packs, but I really only wanted one, so I picked a four-pack that only had two. He quoted a price of $2, which I thought was extremely reasonable. Then he just gave them to me. I'll go back soon. I know I can find other plants I can't live without.

I don't know what variety the rhubarb is. It's got red stems. cute tiny red stems, and he said it is a European variety, "they're really focusing on pies." So maybe it's a bit less tangy than typical? It will be a few years before I can taste test, though. I'll have to do a bit of research on rhubarb, now.

Anyway... Yay, rhubarb. And yay, One Heart Farm in Lawrence. I'll have to do a blog about them, too, maybe.

Oh, and I missed Naked Gardening Day. That was yesterday, May 5. It would have been a lovely day for naked gardening. Next year.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Blossoming

April 8, 2018.
Yes, it's April; the beginning of the second week in April, in fact.

And it snowed today... again.

And the prairie anemone, also called Pasque flower because it blooms around Easter time, is opening its blossoms. Snow covered blossoms.

In the fields other snow "blossoms" mysteriously appeared. Tiny little spider webs strewn among the tall brown weeds, capturing snowflakes instead of flies. They were everywhere -- among the tall grasses, in the woods. An unexpected blossoming.

Magic is everywhere.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

April Fool

Sweetgrass in the foreground, nettles across the snow covered path. Yes, this is April.
Mother Nature has her own way of playing April Fool pranks.

Thought it was Spring... didn't you?
Guess again! Bwahahaha!

Fifty three baby cabbage plants in the ground (minus one that gotten taken out by a cutworm), plus five bok choy plants. Tiny rutabaga seedlings nestled in the hay. I had planned to get my broccoli plants in the ground before the end of last week. Then I looked at the weather forecast.

Twenty-nine forecast for this morning was no worry. The cabbages have been in the ground long enough that they can handle it.

But tonight's 25 and Tuesday night's 23? That's a bit too low even for the cabbage family, especially if they're newly planted.

Needless to say, the broccoli plants aren't even on the front porch anymore. They're crammed onto the light shelves. The broccoli plants are getting way too big to be in those little pots."

And it's snowing. It was sleeting, rat-a-tat-tatting on the canvas hood of my heavy coat when I went out to put more sheets and blankets on the cabbages. Then it turned to fine snow. But it is beautiful. Early green things show through the fine white stuff. The sweetgrass, nearly a foot tall, glows yellow-green, while behind it the nettle patch hums in deep green. The sleet-snow is so deep that the fuzzy gray-green leaves of the lambs ear barely shines through. Patches of green grass everywhere.

It might feel like winter, but it looks like spring. Green. The snow won't last long. The temperatures will rise this week, but not fast or high enough to suit me. It's April, for crying out loud. I planted peas almost a month ago. Where are they? Too smart to stick their heads up before Winter has its final say.

I watch the snow fall and the temperature stick stubbornly at 27 degrees. I stroke the broccoli plants getting ready to break out of their starter pots. They're safe inside. At least I wasn't that much of an April fool.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Shifting

The season shifts...

One week ago I discovered the first cluster of yellow crocus blooms. They grow in a narrow strip of dirt between the house and sidewalk. This spot is much warmer than other areas as the metal wall of the house and concrete of the sidewalk absorb the intense morning sunlight, radiating the heat later.

The next day I noticed the sunny yellow winter aconite blooming, and one lonely little snowdrop. On Saturday I discovered some of the rock iris had bloomed. Today all of these blossoms were buffeted by the stiff March wind. However, one of the rock iris was held steady in the embrace of some thyme, which has not yet regained its color.

One week in and March has shown us all of its moods. It began pleasantly warm and sunny, with a little breeze, then turned moody. It gave us a cold shoulder and gloomy skies. Today its mood deepened with a blustery cold wind and snow flurries. If the forecast holds true, March will again reveal a warm and sunny disposition.
Rock iris in the arms of thyme

Ah yes, March.

We're tired of lugging wood in to feed the fire. Tired of kicking about little bits of wood and sawdust that fall off the fuel logs. Whenever the temperature begins climbing into the 50s, especially if it's sunny, we wonder, "Should we let the fire go out today?" But I hesitate because I hate being chilled. Either we keep the fire going and let it get a bit too warm inside, or let it go out and feel chilly all day.

But March has brought flowers with the winds, and a little bit of greening. Tiny cleavers are popping up and will soon be rambling among the mint. The fuzzy lamb's ear has green hearts. The elm trees are budding. Yesterday I think I saw a turkey vulture circling low over a field. The vultures left about mid-October. Their return means spring also returns. I think it was a vulture, anyway. I was certain when I saw it, briefly as we were driving home with a cord of wood in our truck -- getting ready for next winter's fires. A few yards down the road a crow flapped across the road and then I wasn't certain. But I know the shape and manner of the vulture. It had to be.

Lamb's ear begins to glow green.
Soon we should hear song birds warming up their vocal chords (do birds have vocal cords?) each morning as mating and nesting season arrives. And when I hear the first frog sing, then it will truly be spring.

But today looked a lot like winter. Tomorrow... who knows?

It is March, fickle with its moods. Tomorrow I will set out the baby cabbage plants for a couple of hours to start the hardening off process, so I can plant them in the garden in two or three weeks. Tomorrow I may put seeds of eggplant and peppers in soil filled pots to grow transplants for May. Next week it will be tomatoes. Sow cilantro seed today, spinach, maybe some lettuce and peas. Count down the days until carrots and onions can go in the ground. Spring is on its way.;

March grumbles and growls, then suddenly smiles.
The season shifts...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

My Favorite Time of the Year

A not uncommon question others ask me in reference to the garden is, "What is your favorite season?"

I often feel that they expect me to respond with "Spring," or perhaps "Summer."

My actual response, "Whatever season I'm in."

True to that response, I really love this time of year. Winter still reigns, with all of the ups and downs the local climate has assumed in recent years. The trees remain leafless. The warm season grasses rattle and crunch underfoot, and give a brown glow to the landscape. Even the weeds have almost stopped popping up -- although some that had sprouted before the worst winter cold remain green.

Winter grips the land, in spite of our recent warm days. The only green in the garden, besides the small patches of henbit, can be found in the diminished patch of leeks from last summer. I've wintered them in place by mostly burying them in hay and covering them with an old comforter during the coldest days and nights.

But we have left Deep Winter. One can feel the stirring of Spring. Last week I noticed green spears of crocus leaves emerging in the narrow strip between the house and sidewalk. While digging a couple of days ago I uncovered daffodil bulbs with little white shoots getting ready to poke their heads into the light.

Geese have returned to the sky, on their way to northern
nesting sites. Buds swell on the apple trees. The forecast holds contradictions... today's high winds, and warm and dry weather give us conditions ripe for wildfires; in two days we may experience freezing rain (everyone's favorite -- not). The world transitions from winter to spring, creating highly fickle weather, that even the best forecasters can't accurately predict. We have divided the year neatly into four seasons, but there's nothing "neat" about the real seasons. In truth we have many, including these seasons of transition.

This seems a period of precarious balance in the world. While I can feel the excitement building as bulbs and roots and seeds stir in anticipation of spring, the garden remains asleep. I won't plant outdoors for at least another month. I walk through the sleeping garden without hurry. Many tasks can be done now -- at least when a few warm days thaw the soil -- but I feel no rush, no crunch, no flurry. Weeds don't grow out of control overnight. Few of the tasks have hard and fast deadlines, unlike the tasks of spring and summer.

I feel myself breathing. I allow myself time to walk through my wild places, to sit in my Sanctuary among the cedar trees. And the winter garden is beautiful. I can see its bones. I can feel its soul. In some ways, I feel more at peace now than when green growth threatens to overwhelm me. I rest. I write. I am. I feel myself in deeper communion with the natural world around me.

Ahhh.

Yet it is a time of great anticipation.

This has got to be my favorite season.

And next month, when we observe the Spring Equinox. I will say the same thing. But today I will stay here and enjoy the gifts of this season.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

More Horsing Around

I know, I know, I've already told you all about horseradish and what a wonderful thing it is.

But the other day it was time to make some more prepared horseradish, so I thought I'd let you tag along, show you the ropes, how easy it is to make your own prepared horseradish.

What you need for this are:
Horseradish root (well, duh!)
A good paring knife, preferably serated
A good vegetable peeler
A sturdy blender or food processor (we have a Vitamix)
Some water
Vinegar, I prefer cider vinegar, but use what you like
Jars to put the prepared root in

Back in November or December I dug a bunch of the root right before the weather turned bitterly cold. I didn't want to take the time to clean it, so I left it in a five-gallon bucket in our attached garage. I figured that would be like the refrigerator. I should have covered the horseradish to prevent moisture loss -- not tightly, but loosely -- as by the time I got around to cleaning it some of the thinner pieces had gone a little limp; but no worries, it was still good. To clean, I put the roots in a dish tub full of water and let them soak for a while to loosen the dirt still clinging to them. Then I scrubbed off the dirt and cut away any bits that were funky or too old or otherwise not usable. Then I but them in a crisper drawer in the fridge. They also can be put in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator. Just be sure you use them before they start molding.

Fast forward to processing day.

Peel the roots with your vegetable peeler and cut away any spots, discolored ends, etc.
Cut roots into small chunks, like about one-inch long pieces. Roots with a large diameter should be cut smaller. Put all your chunks in the blender or food processor. And add water. You'll need water or your blender will burn up. I think I put in enough water to go halfway up the root in the blender. You can add more, but my husband doesn't like his horseradish too juicy, so I used vinegar as some of the blending liquid. Because I knew that I would have at least three cups of prepared horseradish, I put in enough vinegar for that amount of sauce, and added more later when it became apparent how much I would have. Supposedly, adding the vinegar right away tames down the mustardy heat. I don't know. If this horseradish was tamed by the immediate addition of vinegar, I am glad I didn't wait.

So, how much vinegar?

Two to 3 tablespoons per cup of prepared horseradish. I lean toward the larger amount.

Now blend/process. Stop every couple of minutes or so to give the motor a rest. The Vitamix has some kind of sensor that will stop it before you completely burn up the motor. I managed to avoid that until the very end. You can ruin your machine if you don't give it a rest.

When it becomes clear how much prepared horseradish you will have, add the rest of the vinegar.

DO NOT PUT YOUR FACE DIRECTLY OVER THE BLENDER/PROCESSOR WHEN YOU OPEN IT. Unless you want searing pain in your eyes and sinuses. I do my blending on the counter next to my cook stove so I can run the range hood fan to exhaust any mustard gas fumes from the horseradish. Next I shovel the prepared horseradish into canning jars and cap them tightly. I got three pints and one half pint out of this batch.

Store in the refrigerator. Don't wait too long to use it, as its potency deteriorates over time. It's best to store fresh root in the refrigerator and process only as much as you can use in a couple of months. Eat frequently to get the maximum health benefits from it and because it really perks up food. I like mixing it with my homemade apple butter. I spread it on my baked salmon and even just eat the blend on its own. Maybe put some horseradish on your apple pie. Mash horseradish in with avocado. Mix in with mashed potatoes. Good food.