Friday, September 26, 2008

Kitchen Garden Update

The Kitchen Garden is so beautiful that it makes me want to cry. When I first discussed it with Love, I envisioned beds made from the old fence we were tearing down, a couple of inches above the paths. I should have known better: Love doesn't do sloppy work. The beds are simply beautiful: made from western cedar, they rise six inches above the paths. Everything is square and true and perfectly proportioned. These beds will last for decades.

A huge pile of topsoil waits to go into the beds, and Love has compost on order. He's decided, after talking to the folks out at Chicken Holler, to go with a 2:1 mix, 2 parts topsoil to 1 part compost. We've started filling the beds in the evening, one at a time. First we break up the soil at the bottom of the box and then top it off with topsoil. Everybody helps: even the cats climb in at loosen the soil for us.

The whole thing will be surrounded by a chain link fence. I'll be planting English peas on that late this winter, followed by other vertical crops. I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tarts for the Sweet

Skye found this recipe in one of my collection of canning books, Sunset Home Canning. (Hey, it's an addiction -- I simply cannot pass one up!) Aren't they pretty? She made them all by herself. Actually, I picked up store-bought pie crust for her to use. We were getting ready for her Suzuki Book II party, making two dishes for a potluck picnic, and cooking for a friend with sick family, and I just didn't have time to teach her to make pie crust. She was fearlessly ready to make it from her Granny's recipe, but I suggested she take a short cut this one time and promised to teach her how to make pie crust soon. She used two favors of jam from our pantry: blueberry and raspberry. Have I mentioned that I have discovered the joys of homemade raspberry jam? I'm currently hoarding a second round of raspberries in the freezer for another batch of jam.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Wanna Go.....

Last week brought our monthly issue of Rural Arkansas, the magazine of our rural electric coop, to our mailbox. One of this month's articles features Heirloom Seed Shop in Norfork, Arkansas. Who's up for a road trip, maybe next spring break, just in time for spring planting? I'd really like to see those 50 types of tomato seeds and talk to the volunteers who run the shop about heirloom seeds and organic gardening. Maybe a side trip to the Ozark Folk Center would be just the ticket....

Saturday, September 20, 2008


This week I read Heirloom: Notes from an Accidental Tomato Farmer by Tim Stark. Stark left a life as a struggling writer to become a struggling market farmer selling his produce at New York City's Green Market and to a bevy of New York's top chefs. I think I need to read it again: there was simply too much to take in. Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes, elderberries, the Amish, fingerling potatoes, groundhogs, chocolate Scotch bonnet peppers, more tomatoes.

The last chapter, chronicling the real estate squeeze that has driven farmers farther and farther from the city, hit me squarely between the eyes. As the daughter of a farmer with none of the family left in farming, these realities hurt me. And frighten me. Who will grow the food for my grandchildren?

So I garden. And I teach Skye. And I know that while I am happiest in my garden, this place will never be a farm. I will continue to go off to the library each day and collect my paycheck on the 15th of the month. I'm a coward. Farming is too hard. And we all rely on it every day of our lives.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Love, Laney, & Skye

As is often the case with bloggers, I’ve chosen screen names for my family as I write about our lives. But why Love, Laney, and Skye?

At first my husband was Hubby as I wrote about him, but the name just didn’t work – too many Hubbys out there in the blogosphere. But why Love? My mother’s sister called her husband of sixty years Love until she lost him two years ago. Actually, come to think of it, she still does. Calling my husband Love on this blog seemed like a fitting tribute to both of them, especially my uncle, who was a “Master Gardener” before the term was invented.

I’m not Laney in my real life, either, but she’s there in the back of my mind. Laney Whidden was a several-greats grandmother of mine who lived in Georgia two-hundred plus years ago. I’ve loved the name since I stumbled upon it several years ago, and I often think about what her life must have been like and what she would think of mine.

And then there’s Skye. My daughter actually chose her own screen name, and she uses it, too. She’s named for Skye Penderwick, a character in two wonderful books by Jeanne Birdsall. If you have a daughter, granddaughter, or neice in her tweens, you might hand her The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, two wonderful books about a bevy of young sisters making their way in the world with no mother and a Latin-speaking, absent-minded professor of a father.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Hurricane Ike came ashore hundreds of miles from our home in northwest Arkansas, yet we still felt his touch. We got up early Saturday morning to make phone calls to check on family in Houston. Love's sister and her kids and my niece and her husband all rode out Ike in place, with only a loss of electricity and a few shingles.

Ike blew into our corner of the world much weakened, but he still left his touch. Neighbors told us today that the wind roared last night, but we uncharacteristically slept through the whole thing. We awoke this morning to lots of pecans and pecan limbs on the ground, but no major tree losses. (We did see lots of broken Bradford pears on our way to church this morning -- good riddance.) We have the heaviest pecan crop on the trees we've had in years, but first Gustav and now Ike have left lots of those immature pecans on the ground. A good lesson for Skye -- never count your pralines until they're cooled.

Every pepper bush in the vegetable garden is now leaning at an angle somewhat less the 90 degrees, but none are uprooted. It was tempting to try to right them, but I decided the best course of action was leave them be -- they will surely grow as good crooked as upright.

The raspberries are all leaning, but once again: no harm done -- I think.

We did pick up ten pounds of windfalls from under the apple tree. I studied a bit and decided on applesauce. The Fujis aren't quite ripe yet, but the applesauce is fabulous. My only fear is that Skye is about to become an applesauce snob -- she has already declared this first batch far superior to the stuff from the grocery store.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Learning about Permaculture

For the last year or so, I've seen the term permaculture in many contexts and thought I knew what it meant, but when Skye asked me for a definition a few weeks ago, I found myself at a loss. I could tell her that the term originated as a combination of the words permanent and agriculture and that the movement started in Australia in the 1970s, but that's about as far as I could get. So what else is a librarian to do? I went down to my public library, checked out a book, and started reading. I was lucky enough to have great public librarians who had selected Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway for the collection. I came away feeling like I can now explain what permaculture means.

Permaculture is gardening by using a variety of strategies to create groupings of plants that support each other and the soil over an extended period of time. The strategies include choosing plants that serve multiple purposes at once. For example, a small tree might provide shade for shrubs that need protection from the broiling sun to get started, pull nitrogen to the surface where it is more readily available for use by other plants, and drop leaves in the fall that serve as mulch to keep down weeds and to add organic matter to the soil. Permaculture evolves from young, immature plantings to forests over a course of decades; the permaculturist focuses on trees and perennial shrubs rather than on annuals and on building the soil in place rather than by adding materials from outside the loop.

The book is a great introduction to the discipline and gives lots of starting points for the home gardener. Will I forego my vegetables for guilds focused around black walnuts? Not tomorrow and probably never completely. Will I ask Love to build a series of ponds to filter our graywater and provide habitat for ducks to keep the insect population of The Realm in check? Not next week. Will I gradually incorporate some of the techniques and ideas Hemenway posits? Absolutely. Take those heritage apples I've been thinking of putting in to expand our apple harvest. I now plan to use each of those as the centerpiece of a guild. I'm also going to chunk the woodlot and approach each section with a critical eye as to what plants to encourage, which ones I should eliminate (or move), and what plants I should add to help move our overgrown yard toward an edible forest.

My favorite quote from the book: “Doing an imperfect something is better than doing a perfect nothing.” Amen, brother!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

8 Cups of Heaven

Once the novelty wore off harvesting raspberries, Skye stepped aside and let me at the bushes. Oh, she still slips out to the Berry Patch to graze, but for the past week or so, I have been harvesting a 1/2 cup, cup, or 2 cups a day from our Heritage bushes. Unlike Skye, I don't eat them. I squirrel them away, dumping them into a freezer container each evening. Last night, I hit my goal: 8 cups of frozen berries. Tonight, I made jam.

It is glorious jam, destined for early morning toast, jam tarts, and pb&j lunchbox sandwiches. Check out the mashed berries, along with the perfect mashing tool: Love's Mamaw's meat tenderizer. The flat end is perfect for mashing any berry, and these berries were perfect for mashing!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Flowers on the Porch

This weekend's beautiful weather was great for gardening, and the gardening was great for both me and my gardens. I'm always happier when I can get into the gardens, and the gardens are always happier when I'm around. As the Chinese proverb says, "The best fertilizer is the gardener's shadow."

Saturday I worked in the Berry Patch and the temporary vegetable plot. Sunday morning found me putting things to order in the Cottage Garden. Work and rain and motherly duties and more demanding gardens have kept me from the Cottage Garden for too many days. It's not fair that the flowers get attention only after the food-bearing gardens have been cared for, but that's the way it is. Anyway, my first step was to clip back all the flowers that have grown into the path. The clipping made a nice centerpiece for our porch table. The choice of vase is in keeping with the feel of our back porch -- nothing fancy here!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Another Generation?

My mother, who lives in northeast Lousiana, got 17 inches of rain earlier this week from Gustav. The water did not rise into her home, thank goodness, but she says it hasn't been this high since 1991. That year it didn't get in her house proper, but it did enter her enclosed back porch.

Mother says everything is fine, but she wondered did I have any of her "bachelor's buttons" in my gardens this year? (I learned a few years ago that "bachelor's buttons" is the common name for several flowers; what Mother is referring to is more accurately called globe amaranth.) All hers are covered with water, and she is afraid she doesn't have any seed frozen. Why all the concern for a plant that is commonly available? It's a heritage plant. Mother got the seed from her Aunt Lula in the 1950s. Aunt Lula dug the plants from her mother's houseplace after she died in 1942. Heaven only knows where Mother's grandmother got them.

As luck would have it, I have one specimen in the Cottage Garden this year. Very lucky indeed, as I did not plant the seed this year, and it almost never reseeds itself for me, as it almost always does for Mother. It's a spindly plant this year, not a bunchy compact one covered in blooms, because I didn't pinch it back earlier in the summer as I should have. But it seems to have come through the 5 inches of rain Gustav brought all the way to northwest Arkansas. Matilda Owens Smith's bachelor buttons should survive another year in the gardens of her progeny.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

First Apple Harvest

My husband, who is not a farmer, says the apples on the Fuji tree are going to break the limbs. My brother, who is a farmer, says the apples on the Fuji tree are going to break the limbs. I guess I’d better start harvesting apples.

I did thin the crop, I really did. But the apples are huge and the tree is loaded. I picked up a windfall yesterday and tested it – yummy! Even though my ripening calendar says to let them ripen through October or even November, I’m going to begin selective harvest this week to ease the stress on the tree.

One problem, though: what am I going to do with the frozen apples that didn’t get used up from last year? I’m thinking I’m going to cook them for applesauce. Any ideas? Can I make good applesauce from frozen apples?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blondes ARE More Fun

Skye came tearing into the house yesterday evening with her usual refrain: "Momma, look!" And just what was she waving in front of my face this time? Our first ever ripe golden raspberry! I tried her patience greatly, but I made her refrain from eating it until we took its picture and then went back to the berry patch and picked a red raspberry for a comparison shot. Isn't it a beauty? It's an Anne, which I set out this spring. I didn't get to eat the berry, but Skye reports that it tastes very similar to the red ones. I know some of the "red ones" are Heritage raspberries, and I suspect that they may all be.

The raspberry harvest is coming along nicely. I'm using my usual philosophy concerning the harvest of berries. Skye picks them, and she gets to eat as many as she wants. This scheme does several things at once: develops ownership in the berry patch in her, provides her with healthy treats, I don't have to pick (much), and I will eventually get some for my projects, if not this year, then next year. And it has worked well so far. We now have way more blueberries than she can eat each summer, and she considers those blueberries a family project -- and they are. This year, the second year for blackberry production, I made a cobbler and a batch of jelly, even with Skye eating all she wanted -- which was lots, after I taught her that the only proper way to eat blackberries is with cream (real cream, not non-dairy whipped topping) and sugar. So far, I have squirreled away two pints of raspberries this fall. I hope I can make jam from frozen raspberries. I've been juggling so fast since the school year started that I haven't taken the time to research that one. But the next golden raspberry -- it's mine!

Monday, September 1, 2008

September Ozarks Gardening Calendar

While the average first frost for Fayetteville, Arkansas, is October 17, the earliest first frost on record was on September 27, 1942.

Throughout month
Cold Frame:
Various lettuces.

September 1
Kitchen Garden:
Plant lettuce, mustard, leeks, carrots, turnips, summer squash, spinach, & radish.
Cottage Garden:
Fertilize roses for last time this year.
Begin gradually harvesting Fuji apples to prevent limb breakage. Keep windfalls picked up.

After raspberry harvest
Berry Patch:
Prune Heritage (red) & Anne (golden) raspberries to the ground.

September 15
Kitchen Garden:
Plant lettuce, mustard, radish, & spinach.
Cottage Garden:
Plant hollyhocks, larkspur, & poppies.
Plant perennials for next year.
Fertilize mums just before buds open.
Cut back earlier bloomers when tops begin to die back.
Dig & divide crowded spring and summer bloomers.
All Gardens:
Apply milky spore to areas affected by Japanese beetles.

September 20
Kitchen Garden:
Plant beets, carrots, mustard, cauliflower, & celery.
Woodlot & orchard:
Prepare planting holes for evergreens, trees, and shrubs.

September 24
Cottage Garden:
Plant spring blooming bulbs & lily-of-the-valley.
Cut lilies back to the ground when the stalks die back.