seasonal alerts

Starting Seeds

tashkent marigold

Tashkent Marigold, from one of my favorite seed companies, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Well, I’ve wasted another perfectly good hour, as the Car Guys would say, going through the umpty-millionth seed catalog, marking every tempting vegetable, herb and flower.

Have I checked which seeds I’ve already ordered? No. Have I checked which seeds I already have? Also no. Were any of these markings made with an eye to the limits of the garden, or for that matter the limits of me?

Of course not, because the truth is the hour wasn’t wasted, it was used as a tranquilizer. Locally, it’s too cold to work in the garden; globally, it’s too hot for the world as we know it to endure. Both of these facts have the potential to be depressing, but just thinking about planting seeds pushes all gloom away.

No matter what else is happening, a seed would rather grow. What could be more wonderful than that?

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Securing Special Seeds (Martian Jewels Corn, for instance)

martian jewels corn

An ear of Martian Jewels on the stalk – note the rich color of the stem and husk. (See end of post for useful tips on choosing and ordering vegetable seeds).

As far as I’m concerned, this time of year is already plenty busy enough. Had I my druthers, I’d just let the seed catalogs pile up until that lovely lull between Christmas and New Years when most of the baking is safely done but it’s not yet time to go see the accountant.

However. Thanks to the ballooning assortment of esoteric goodies for which not even the largest company has sufficient room, waiting is not an option. Between “last chance” and “limited supply” something unique is going to get sold out soon, and she who hesitates is going to be

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Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie – a Recipe from a Friend

maple pecan pumpkin pie

Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie – what is there to say but read on?

As I was saying only a moment ago, here comes Thanksgiving. Time for the Turkey Roundup. Time also for the pumpkin pie – but the Squash Roundup, while rich in recipes (see end of post) does not contain this necessary part of the finale.

Enter my dear friend Sandy Oliver, food writer, culinary historian and vegetable grower supreme, who just happens to have a great recipe for pumpkin pie in her new book, Maine Home Cooking, published, fittingly, by Downeast Books

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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!

TOMATO AND POTATO BLIGHT ALERT – with organic management tips

for anyone who lives where it has been raining rather a lot lately. All this dampness, combined with cool temperatures, creates a perfect environment for the spread of Late Blight, Phytopthera infestans.

Just to refresh your memory, that’s the disease responsible for major crop devastations from the Irish potato famine of the 1840s to the Eastern US tomato catastrophe of 2009.

Although Late Blight isn’t a fungus, it’s like a fungus in that once you’ve got it, you’re cooked.

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Magnolias, Maple Syrup and Climate Change

No news that the weather is pretty strange lately and that includes in the Hudson Valley, where we’re amassing broken records at a record-breaking pace: the hottest March, the hottest first quarter, and most recently, the hottest April 15th, when it was 91. Another all-timer (at least at our house) is the annual magnolia trashing, this year the earliest by a country mile.

blooming pink  magnolia (soulangeana)

Magnolia in usual late April mode

The pattern itself is always the same: 1) multi-week warm spell, 2) magnolia blooms, 3) seasonally-appropriate frost comes, 4) flowers turn brown. But it used to happen between late April and early May. Then the whole sequence moved back to April.

In 2012, all March. Bloom started around the 10th and was thoroughly whacked when the temperature dropped to 25 degrees on the night of the 26th.

frost damaged magnolia soulangeana

April 18th, three weeks and change after the frost - just a few late-opening dots of pink.

Meanwhile, the combo of February and March was the 3rd driest on record and April is not shaping up well.

I could go on, among other things airing the usual caveat that this is weather, not climate. But I’d rather cut to this not-climate’s effect on the maple syrup industry, as described in the crop reports written by Arnold Coombs, a seventh generation maple syrup producer and packer in Vermont.

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When To Start the Seeds

seed racks at nursery

This picture (taken at Adams, in Poughkeepsie, NY) is actually a bit of a cheat - I buy almost all of my seeds online, from too many favorite suppliers.* But it does say "time to think about starting seeds” in an unmistakable way.

This year’s gigantic assortment of seeds has finally arrived, bringing with it the usual gigantic dose of buyer’s remorse. I had firmly decided against bulbing onions, for instance, having concluded that purchased plants  –  also available mail order, in convenient bunches of 50 to 75 –  do much better than the plants I start myself.

Yet somehow, mysteriously, here is a packet of heirloom Australian Brown storage onion seeds, roughly 700 incipient plants. Here also are 8 kinds of peas, most of them the kinds that require poles. We cut way back last year and they were sorely missed, but this does not explain where the hell I’m going to put them all. As usual, too many tomatoes, but on the other hand I’m not going to start any eggplants.

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Twelfth Night – Time to Recycle the Tree

As a general rule, recycling the tree starts being an issue after the holiday, when a use must be found for a large, suddenly useless dead conifer. But this year we had a large dead conifer well before Christmas, thanks to the Halloween snowstorm that toppled the 15 foot arbor vitae in the southeast corner of the back yard.

Christmas tree with bird ornaments

Our holiday tree, 2011, aka the top of the former arborvitae. There’s a bucket of water inside the pedestal.

Putting it up was extremely easy; taking it down wasn’t much  harder and now we have the same pile of long branches anyone with a regular tree will have as soon as they saw them from the trunk, first step in successful home recycling.

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Last Call Fall Bulbs – in case you share my “can’t say no” problem

Allium christophii, aka Star of Persia

Allium christophii, aka A. albopilosum, aka Star of Persia. A prolific self-sower, among its other virtues, though succeeding generations are smaller than the originals. Also a bit less intensely purple than my camera wants you to believe.

Pop Quiz

1) How many spring-blooming bulbs is too many?

2) How many spring-blooming bulbs is there room for?

3) How many spring-blooming bulbs must be planted before there are enough to cut for the house without diminishing the outdoor show?

Around here, the answer to all three questions is “Who knows?” Several thousand into it I’m not there yet, and that’s not counting the little guys (crocus, muscarii, scilla and the like don’t even show up until there are thousands – unless you force them, which I heartily recommend).

Reason for mentioning it now, when even procrastinators – no names please – have usually gotten all of them in: CLEARANCE SALES!!

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Autumn Soup: Winter Squash, Chestnut and (Wild) Mushroom

autumn soup (chestnut, wild mushroomand winter squash)

late autumn color, late autumn flavor: winter squash, chestnuts and wild mushrooms

Must say I do love a soup that tastes rich and creamy without being heavy – or containing cream. Also nice if it doesn’t require an arsenal of seasonings and is easy and quick to make.

The quick part does assume the squash is already baked, and that you know speedy ways to peel chestnuts, but why not? *

As usual, the ingredient list is pretty much the whole recipe, but given that the beauty shot of the main ingredients promised something a bit more extensive, here’s a rough outline, based on the most recent iteration.

“Rough” and “most recent” are definitely the words for it; this is one of those home style soups that’s infinitely variable.

In other words, almost impossible to screw up.

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