Archive for March, 2009

Accidental Muskrat

It was lunchtime. I was in the kitchen. Bill went out to empty the compost before making his umptigazillionth ham sandwich ( This is not a man who believes in varying the midday menu.)

“Hey Leslie, come see what’s in the trap!”

A muskrat.

Full grown muskrat - they're smaller than you'd think.

Full grown muskrat - they're smaller than you'd think.

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Fast Cookies

Because sometimes people are quite suddenly coming for tea or whatever in less than an hour and there’s nothing nifty in the freezer and you deeply don’t want to go to the store and also must do something about the books and papers currently covering every flat surface in the house.

 Aha, I thought, time for Lightening Cookies, aka Split Seconds, an American home cooking classic. The ingredients are always on hand; only 1 mixing bowl is needed, shaping is extremely swift and you can bake the whole batch at once. 

Fifty two butter cookies - apple blackberry in back, apricot up front

Fifty two butter cookies - apple blackberry in back, apricot up front

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Food Safety Alert

but not about polluted peanut butter or killer burgers. It’s something ( potentially) even worse: legislation that in its present form could wipe out small farms, just when the government is starting to understand their enormous value.

In spite of the freakout that’s been careening around the blogosphere, these proposed laws are not a fascist plot. It’s simply that – as you may have noticed – congress has gotten into the habit of being so spooked by current events it rushes into action without considering unintended consequences.

And it looks like they’re about to do it again, this time with an avalanche of well-meaning regulations (S425, HR 759, HR 814, and HR 875 *) aimed at making our food system safer, all the way from farm to fork.

Great idea, except for the part where the laws see no difference between a California corporation with a thousand acres of lettuce and Joe the farmer with fifty acres whose lettuce is only one of twenty assorted vegetables. Read More…

When the Crocus Blooms, It's Time to


Start on the endless spring to-do list. Lawn and garden cleanup, shrub pruning, seed-starting, seed planting…

and (among yet other things)

* Consider the freezer

* Start on the bulb maps

* Figure out where the garlic is going to go

* Cut back and repot tired houseplants

* Scout for morel spots Read More…

Amaryllis Won’t Bloom? Daffodils Not Flowering?

“ Why won’t my amaryllis re-bloom?”

If only I had the proverbial dime for each time a reader wrote to me – at the New York Times, at Yankee, at (oh distant past) McCall’s – asking that question, I’d be rich. And if there were also dimes for “ why didn’t my daffodils flower?” Bill Gates would have to look to his laurels.

Amaryllis reblooming; this one is about 5 years old.

Amaryllis reblooming; this one is about 5 years old.

Answers were and are mostly about getting enough sun on the leaves that feed the bulb. Flowers for next year are already formed when these bulbs go dormant, so the stronger they are at that stage, the better the flowers will be. Good drainage is also essential, especially while the bulbs are leafless. And they prefer near-neutral soil, though they can make do in most cases.

Wet or very acid soil, shade, leaf-braiding and cutting leaves before their work is done are the most likely suspects when amaryllis or daffodils won’t flower. But there’s also another culprit that gets a lot less attention: the narcissus bulb fly, Merodon equestris.

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Civil War in California

Familiar battle lines are being drawn. Salts of the Earth versus Clueless Elitists. Some farmers in California are up in arms about Proposition 2, which bans tight confinement of animals. They’ve started a secessionist movement to divorce the state’s agricultural heart from its cosmopolitan coast.

As this New York Times article about it makes clear, ain’t gonna happen. But it does underline the huge gulf between most traditional farmers and most consumer activists (and not just in California). Read More…

Simple, Easy Trellises – for peas, beans and tomatoes

That’s “trellis” as in “utilitarian structure that holds up annual vines and comes down at the end of the season,” and the way we build them is with simple uprights and really a lot of untreated twine.

pole beans on sapling trellis, woods left and straight ahead

pole beans on sapling trellis, woods left and straight ahead

In Maine, we use saplings from the surrounding woods – they’re handy, they’re free, and because they’re nothing more than little trees they tie the riotous, colorful garden to its wild environment.

string and sapling trellis (please ignore oak post in foreground)

string and sapling trellis (please ignore oak posts in foreground)

This bean trellis was created by Kristi, who had evidently gotten bored with just running vertical lines. Beans would rather go up but will travel horizontally if encouraged. The spiderweb was completely covered about 2 weeks from this picture.

In New York, where there’s no convenient sapling source and the garden is if not formal at least orderly, we use 8 foot oak 2×2’s. Read More…

Single Cup Coffee Makers (Pod Type)

Are they an Eek of the Week or are they too old hat? I just discovered them yesterday, in a flyer I was leafing though after lunch to avoid going back to work. THERE’S an eek, sez I, a little plastic cup in the landfill for every cup of home brewed coffee. So much for greener than takeout. 

My George H.W. Oh boy is he ever out of it Bush moment. I did know disposable pods were part of the espresso boom, but until I went to Amazon to check how common these things might be…

OMG. Double eek. But there in the list was an oddity that almost defies imagination: ” The Java Wand is a portable, single serve, miniaturized French Press filter attached to a durable, hand blown, glass straw that brews and filters coffee and tea leaves in your cup.” 

If any of you have ever used one of these things, please send us a review. I burn to know, I really do.

Pruning Roses

Just in case that might be on your mind, today’s heartfelt plea is


 Not yet!!  

At least not in the Mid-Hudson Valley or most places north of here.

Having just been in the cutting garden getting an eyeful of dead material, I know the temptation is huge.

Resist. It isn’t yet time to encourage new growth. And I know ( having more than once said ” oh, it won’t hurt”) that if you prune properly, cutting past anything that looks weak, all the way down to a strong node, that node now has a wounded tip exposed directly to any hard frost that happens to come along. 

This doesn’t keep me from removing ( and burning) the bulk of the dead stuff. I just make sure to stay well away from anything living, no matter how weak and wimpy, until safe pruning time comes. It’ll only be a couple of weeks — let us hope!

( Almost) Pea Planting Time

In our part of the Hudson Valley there’s still snow on hard ground in all the low places. But Sunday morning is clock-switching time and the forecast is for everything that’s usually loathsome about March. Furthermore, the stores are festooned with shamrocks and leprechaun hats and green crepe paper ribbons. Two good things to be said for the decor:

1. It reminds you to make soda bread.

2. You are warned that it’s almost pea-planting time, since tradition says you’re supposed to plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day. Where this tradition began nobody seems to know, but where this tradition makes sense are places – like Ireland – where March 17th really IS (more or less) what seed catalogs and garden guides call “ as early in spring as the ground can be worked.”

Not folkloric enough? How about “when the forsythia starts blooming?”


Read More…