Garden Alert! Before The Storm…

alliums on table/movable objects

How many things can you find in this picture that ought to get put away?

Not much can be done to protect the garden itself – but a quick patrol may well uncover potential missiles.

Put inside:

Flowerpots, empty or full


Solar lights (even with spikes in the ground; heavy rains can loosen them enough for a wind gust to pick ‘em up)

Birdbath bowls not attached to strong bases (also the bases if just standing there)

Thermometers and rain gauges not securely fixed to strong supports.

Statuary, gazing balls, any ornament that weighs less than 40 lbs. (or more, if winds are expected to gust over 75 MPH).

Reduce hazards from:

Tuteurs – if possible to turn on their sides without destroying vines, do that. If the vines are annuals, consider saying goodbye and bringing the supports in.

Wheelbarrows – turn upside down

Tables, chairs and benches – if there isn’t room inside, turn tables upside down; put chairs and benches in the lee of a building with the least wind-catching side up.

Flapping doors on outbuildings – if you have a door with loose hinges or a slider, be sure it’s secured.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something, please add to the list!

Corn and Coconut Cupcakes

Four short years ago, in the course of extolling Black Mexican Corn, I strongly urged home gardeners to buy their modern sweet corn from local farmers, so they could devote their all their corn growing space to heirlooms.

Now I’m feeling that a retraction may be necessary: it’s getting more and more difficult to find farmers who sell the modern corn that’s a vegetable instead of dessert. All this chichi corn ice cream and such no longer seems like an affectation but instead an act of desperation – what else is there to do with this stuff?

corn and coconut cupcakes, with chocolate and coconut

Corn and Coconut Cupcakes, with and without Aztec Ganache.

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Daimyo Oak (Quercus dentata)

young Daimyo oak quercus dentata

Eric’s seven foot Daimyo oak, three years after its introduction to basal pruning.

There are a lot of oak trees in the woods around us in Maine, some white oaks, some reds, some still sapling size, some close to majestic. They’re nice in their way (especially when adorned with hen of the woods mushrooms), but they’re almost as much of a nuisance as Norway maples. The acorns root readily almost everywhere they land and thanks to the squrrels they land pretty much everywhere.

In other words, we are already if anything oversupplied with oaks, and until I read about Eric’s Daimyo I felt no need to plant more. But now, I dunno. He does make his tree sound very appealing, and a simple google delivers a lot of enticing images. (Many of them are for Daimyo oak bonsai, who knew?)

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Lactarius indigo – YAY!!!

Lactarius indigo, the blue milk mushroom

Highlight of the season, found in the Hudson Valley on September 28th. It’s Lactarius indigo, aka blue milk mushroom.

I’m spoiled. Simple fact. Being married to a whiz-bang mushroom hunter/expert mycologist, I get a lot of morels,  chanterelles  and porcini, to say nothing of sulfur shelf hen of the woods and other well-known wild delights. All are  deeply welcome, don’t get me wrong. But at this point in my mushroom career they aren’t thrillingly special.

Lactarius indigo, on the other hand, is an edible miracle so seldom found that when I run into them I just about fall on my knees and weep. It doesn’t seem fair that a single mushroom could be both mind-bendingly gorgeous and outstandingly delicious, but there you are. Life isn’t fair.

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Heirloom Apple Alert – The Season is ON!

heirloom apples on labeled bags

Early apples, left to right. Back row: Dutchess of Oldenburg, Wealthy. Second row: Milton, Gravenstein (2), Charette. Third row: Hazen, Early Russet. Little guys: Whitney

I don’t usually get around to issuing one of these alerts until the other end of the season, when it’s more like “last chance” than “get ready.” Two reasons:

1. My interest in apples is very small when there’s still a chance that a peach might be found. (I don’t want to hear about broccoli while there are still tomatoes, either).

2. Although some of the most famous and best loved heirlooms are early ripeners like Yellow Transparent and Chenango Strawberry, they aren’t, as a group, my favorites. Too sweet and too soft.

But this year I’m on the bandwagon right near the start of the parade, because the first batch from my heirloom apple CSA has arrived, and – are we surprised? Well, yes, mildly – a couple of them are delicious.

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How To Can Tomatoes (My Way)

pint jars of canned tomatoes

The clear liquid at the bottom of the jars is juice that separates because the tomatoes are basically raw when canned. Shaking the jars mixes it in (see jar on the upper left).

When it comes to canning tomatoes, I’m a total piker compared to some people I know, never mind our pioneer ancestors.  But I do manage to put away 15 to 20 pint jars by the time the season ends.

The tomatoes within are in two forms: whole with chunks in juice (basically raw when they go in the jar) and Intensely Delicious Roast Tomatoes. Having recently reminded you yet again about the roasted ones, I feel that version has been amply covered.

But I’ve never described my method for plain old canned tomatoes – probably because I wouldn’t make them if I didn’t have to. Between the roasted and the frozen, we have a better preserved tomato ready for any cooked tomato need … except one: stewed tomatoes, winter comfort lunch supreme, which must be made with home canned tomatoes.

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Preserving the Tomato Harvest

harvested tomatoes, sorted by variety

Bill is looking at the Olympics. I’m looking at the tomatoes, deciding which ones to freeze next.

It may seem a bit early to go all harvesty on you, but the first big flush of Hudson Valley tomatoes is usually the best for both quantity and quality, so that’s the one it makes sense to put up.  The season of need will be upon us sooner or later (probably later, the way the weather’s been going lately), no matter how hard that is to imagine when it’s 72 degrees at dawn.

Equally unimaginable: canning – or at least extensive canning. I make an exception for Intensely Delicious Roast Tomatoes, but the bulk of our haul is a big reason I love the freezer.

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Spider Flower (Cleome hassleriana)

Eric doesn’t know this (or didn’t, when he sent this column) but cleomes and I have a long history. My mother always had a good sized stand of them in a bed beside the lawn, and when I was a tot they sort of scared me. The bushy plants were way bigger than I was. The flower stems did seem kind of spidery, and they had hidden prickles that made grabbing unwise. One way and another I failed to see the beauty part.

violet cleome hassleriana (spider flower)

The spider epithet comes from the seedpods, which continue to develop as the main stalk continues to flower. ” Looks great in a large vase!” says Eric. I agree.

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Lois Dodd and Her Students – Firehouse Center, Damariscotta, Maine, August 4th – September 14th


It’s going to be a humdinger – as anyone who knows Lois and her work, as a painter and as a teacher, will have no trouble believing. There are probably thousands of artists who have profited by her influence. This show,  at the Falcon Foundation’s Firehouse Center, is a selection of  work from forty (40!!) of the best, including sculptors as well as painters, just to keep things interesting.

Crapaudine Beet (the Lady Toad), a Root to be Reckoned With

crapaudine and mango salad

Salad of Crapaudine beets, endive and mango, with (optional) sweet cicily

As I see it, my unseemly craving for Crapaudine beets can be blamed squarely on heirloom tomatoes, the gateway drug of historic vegetable addiction. Growing these famously delicious “unimproved” varieties isn’t all that easy,  but it’s not difficult, either, and the pleasure payoff is immense.

So you go along with the tomatoes for a while and then you try maybe a special snap bean saved by somebody’s grandmother. Good! Onward to Black Mexican corn, introduced in the  late 19th century, then lettuce that Thomas Jefferson grew…

In other words, you’re hooked, – or at least I was –  easy prey for a weird beet that was already being called “one of the oldest varieties” in 1882 (in Les Plantes Potagères, translated as The Vegetable Garden, by MM. Vilmorin-Andrieux, a seedsman whose company was founded in 1742).

Crapaudine beet with greens

Crapaudine beets (lady toad is a rough translation from the French), even look pre-modern, from their fat carrot shape to their rough, barklike skin. The triple top on this one is unusual, but the rest is pretty true to form – including that dancing auxiliary root; Crapaudines often fork somewhere, independent of the stoniness of the soil.

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