Jam at Least

I did not do a lot this growing season. I planted garlic last fall and recently pulled that from the ground. But I planted no garden. I never picked strawberries of blueberries. We had no farm share this year. Granted, we were away much of the summer, but still, I put up little. I was no gardener or gatherer.

We did manage to get out to pick apples at least. We picked lots of them, many varieties, from Shelburne Orchards, our favorite orchard. The view alone from that place makes a visit worth it. I have made apple crisp a couple of times, and have enough apples left to make one more. And last weekend I made apple jam.

Blueberry and strawberry and other berry jams get all the publicity. They are good no doubt. Huckleberry or marionberry jam can fill the mouth with deliciousness that is hard to beat. But these past few years my favorite jam has been made with apples.

We have an apple tree at our house but it has been unhealthy and bears little fruit now. When it did offer up fruit I made the best jam ever. Those apples are Red Delicious, your classic apple. I have not liked those kinds of apples typically. They are usually mealy, lacking flavor, with tough skins. They hold up well and can be transported without too much damage but that shelf life takes its toll on tastiness. Red Delicious certainly are red–they usually look great in a pile at the supermarket–but they are anything but delicious. The ones from our tree, however, are some of the best apples I have ever had. When I first tasted a ripe one I understood why the variety became so popular. Unfortunately, that popularity has been costly.

My jam is pretty simple–apples, sugar, lemon juice, pectin, some nutmeg. With good apples it is a sweet treat that makes a mean PB and J, if you know what I’m saying. I took a couple of hours to rustle up eight jars. They are still sitting on the counter, waiting to be stored. That growing season lethargy continues, I guess. I have a jar left from last season and will polish that off soon. Then I will taste this season’s batch. I have no doubt it will be good, and it will last into the winter. I have no potatoes or onions or frozen pumpkin this year, but I do at least have some apple jam. It won’t make a meal but it will remind me of the days when blossoms filled the air with their almost supernatural scent, and of bees, and of fruit heavy on branches.

Maybe next year I will be better at taking advantage of the short growing season, of the wonder of fresh food grown myself, or grown by my neighbors. For now, however, I’ll have to settle for some toast.

Not Spring Yet

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Lake Champlain at Shelburne Bay–ice as far as one can see

Lake Champlain froze over this year, as it did last year. It is not common that it freezes over two years in a row. It has been a cold winter. Last week we had several days of warmer weather. Temperatures got into the forties. Lots of snow melted. As I write this the temperature is 28 degrees and it is snowing like nuts with a howling wind. It isn’t spring yet.

I did get some time outside when the air was warmer. I always find the transition from season to season remarkable. This week I was amazed at the melting of so much snow. Today I have been amazed at just how wintry it is. I went for a run this afternoon. The wind whipped the falling snow into my face. It hurt. The storm seemed to be telling me to stay inside. I wasn’t out long.

Spring will come soon. I am still waiting for the return of Red Winged Blackbirds. Forget American Robins, some of whom stick around all winter. Red Winged Blackbirds are the real harbingers of spring. Once they arrive, Woodcocks and Song Sparrows, maple leaves and tulips, are not far behind. As of yesterday, the garden beds were just starting to emerge from the snow. Today they are covered again. I planted onion seeds in pots yesterday. They sit inside on the windowsill. By the time they are ready to transplant, this snow, like the snow that left us last week, will be clouds.

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LaPlatte River, March 3rd 2015; note the tracks on the snow on the ice

LaPlatte River, March 14 2015

Same view of the LaPlatte River, March 14 2015

Spring Getting the Shove

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Earlier this week the temperature was close to 80 degrees. Yesterday morning we had a couple inches of snow on the ground. It had been warm enough that things started to flood. Then the floodwater started to freeze over. Early in the day yesterday we had a chilled lake across the road, popping and cracking as the water settled in the cold.

By the afternoon some of the snow had melted. The high temperature was 33 degrees, briefly, so the sun did all the work on that project. The water rose, enough that it flowed over the road by the bridge. The town road crew did a lot of work last summer to keep that in check but it still gets high enough at times to cause some serious erosion.

Wading to check out the water under the bridge

Wading to check out the water under the bridge

This morning it was 18 degree, what the meteorologists would call “unseasonable.” I have been wanting to get started on our garden but it still looks like this:

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Not exactly workable soil

Last year I had started planting in March. So it goes in this hardiness zone. Lots of folks complain about the snow and cold. I get it. But it was stunningly beautiful the past couple of mornings. I find it hard to complain about that. Spring is underway. Winter just wants some last licks. By next week the boots won’t leave the closet and we will start asking when we should remove the snow tires. And then everyone will complain about the mud.

Frost after tax day

Frost after tax day

Tubers Out of the Dirt

I have started pulling tubers. Let me say that again. I have started digging up root vegetables. I made some roasted potatoes from the first batch and they were so good I made another last night. Carrots are ready now as well. These are some good ones–a variety of colors and flavors. I should have a good volume of food with these crops before all is said and done.

The first potatoes I pulled up were German Butterball. These were from tubers I had saved from last summer. I hadn’t meant to save them, exactly. I had stored them to eat and then missed some at the end of the bin. They sat until spring, when they were sprouting like crazy. I had some extra space in the garden and so I popped them into the dirt. I am glad I did. They are a, duh, buttery variety, and white. I also have pulled some others–purple and pink. I love that. Who wants only white potatoes when you can have purple and pink? Several of these colorful plants never took so the extra white potatoes were especially welcome.

Check Out Those Colors

I have purple carrots as well, along with yellow and the standard orange. Our soil is mostly clay–although I did add a good deal of compost this spring–so sometimes the carrots get stunted. I pulled three is a row that were stubby. One of them looked like some kind of alien landing craft. Maybe my garden, which is a circle rather than your typical rectangle, was an inviting locale for an extraterrestrial vehicle. Perhaps my carrots are actually buried spaceships? You be they judge.

Odd Shaped Tuber or Visitor from Space?

 

Garlic Pulled

Garlic Drying in the Sun

Yesterday I pulled the garlic. I should have pulled it sooner but we were away and it just didn’t happen. I planted two varieties in the fall and one of them was way ready to yank from the dirt. It was so ready that a few of them broke at the stem. This was the Purple Bogatyr, a purple tinged, smaller variety. The other is much larger and, because I let it go so long, the bulbs are huge. I have 25 bulbs drying in the sun right now and I pulled a couple earlier as well. For the first time a couple died in the spring–not sure why.

I plan to crank out some pesto in the next couple of days, along with some pico de gallo. Hopefully this garlic will last a while–not all year I am sure but a perhaps through the fall. We do eat a lot of garlic. Next up: onions. They are looking good and the tops are starting to fall over. Pretty soon I will pull them as well.

Beets for Dinner

Just pulled from the dirt

I wasn’t really all that fond of beets. My parents grew them in our garden when I was growing up. I ate them with the rest of my siblings because that was one of the things we were served. I don’t remember hating them, but I also didn’t ask for second helpings. Once I moved out on my own I never ate beets. I didn’t buy them, I didn’t cook them, I didn’t order them. They just were not on my radar of delicious things. That, however, has changed.

Last year I planted beets in our garden for the first time. It turns out my parents instilled in me not only a love of gardening, but also a love of beets. Who knew those purple guys could connect generations? I only grew a few of them last summer. I had a spot in one of the beds and so bought a few seeds and sowed them. And they were tasty. The first ones I coated in olive oil and grilled, and I have not turned back. I remember eating boiled beets, but roasting or grilling is my cooking method of choice.

So last night we had beets for dinner. I had a small crop, thinking I would plant a second batch that hasn’t made it into the ground yet. They were fat and bright and red. I peeled them and sliced them thick and grilled them like I did that first time. I also grilled zucchini, several of which we got from our farm share this week. The topper was the pesto I made yesterday as well. Basil and cilantro is bursting so I cut lots of it. I also pulled a couple heads of garlic–the first from our garden this year. I whipped up a batch of traditional basil pesto and one with cilantro. I froze most of it and the rest dressed the grilled vegetables. It was dee-lish.

Basil ready to be turned into pesto

It turns out, after turning into somewhat of a grownup, that I now have a real taste for beets. Soon I am planning to brew another batch of beer. I will add a couple of pounds of beets to that. I will add some sugar for the yeast to snack on and it will likely turn the brew red or pink. That will be interesting. I certainly did not imagine myself, back when I was swallowing those red boiled tubers, that I would be a fan of beets, growing them myself and adding them to homemade beer. Maybe I am more of a grownup than I thought.

Seedlings on the Rise

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Yesterday I managed to plant some lettuce, arugula and beets. Due to our Mother’s Day activities I had to get to the garden beds late in the day. I ran out of time to plant carrots. The garlic is going gangbusters and the spinach is leafing out nicely.

Inside, tomatoes and peppers and basil are reaching for the sun in the windows. Onions and leeks are ready to get outside. Things are growing nicely.

I am a little behind since I want to spread some beneficial nematodes. My official workplace is right near a garden supply store where I can order some of these handy microscopic critters, but since I usually work out of my home, I have not had the chance to get there in far too long. Before I plant cucumbers and pumpkins and melons I would prefer to work on reducing the cucumber beetle situation. I am not fond of those attractive little pests. They do a number on the fruiters.

This year I have planted a good number of flowers, however. Sunflowers and bulbs and annuals. I don’t usually get to those so I can say I am proud of myself for that. Every year I have the ambition to keep up with all the amazing landscaping that came with the house. That has not happened. Maybe this year. But don’t hold your breath. Of course, I would not recommend holding your breath for much, except maybe the paper mill in Rumford, Maine, so maybe that advice isn’t worth much.

I hope this week to make more progress on the nematodes and then the rest of the crops. And the garden will grow.

Day 40: Rote and Rototiller

I spent a good chunk of my day trying to turn the soil in the garden. I decided that this year I would get a rototiller and turn it with fossil fuel, rather than with muscle. For the past several years, since we moved to this house, I have turned it with a fork, pulled the weeds and raked it smooth. This year I wanted to save some time. I called the hardware store and reserved the tiller and picked it up at 10:00. Once I unloaded it I spent a while going back and forth. I don’t have a rectangle, which might have made things easier, but a series of long beds, arranged in a circular pattern. Back and forth, back and forth. Some of the beds were easy, some took a long time.

The blades were dull, so in the spots where the soil was firm (meaning mostly clay) the tines just spun on the surface. They hardly dug in and I had to work the machine to get it to do the work. I had thought it would be a piece of cake–chop things up, turn it under and, voila, readied garden beds. But it didn’t turn out that way. I had to muscle the thing around to get it to do what I wanted, and on the worst beds I just gave up–it just wouldn’t dig enough to make the arm soreness worth it. And my arms got pretty dang sore.

I did get a lot done, and faster than I would have using a fork, but I will end up having to turn some of it with a fork anyway. I got most of the way toward readying the beds, but not all the way. I guess it was worth the 36 bucks. In any case, I ran in the afternoon and I thought about all this as I did.

On this day 40 of consecutive days running I felt tired after the mechanical wrestling, I didn’t really feel like running, but I went anyway. The afternoon was warm but there was a cool breeze, so I felt good. I was plenty tuckered, but I my feet seemed to know what to do. I ran as if by rote, the steps falling one after another without my really thinking about it. I ran a mile, and then another, and then I was on my way back and suddenly I was home. I was feeling so weary I was ready to find a quiet spot and rest along the way. At least, I felt that way before I left. Once I was out there the run just happened.

I will need to get some more dirt to load onto the beds–compost to feed the seeds. I was too late to order today so that will have to wait until tomorrow. I will be able to run a little later in the morning tomorrow as I don’t have to head to work quite so early, so I will get a short rest in there–no rising at 5:00 in the morning, at least this time. I am glad my rototilling job is done, or sort of done. And I am glad my run went well after feeling so wiped. The tines wouldn’t turn as I wanted them to, but my feet did, and I can call that a good day.

Thinking About Spring Already

Leafing Through the Catalogs and Guides

OK I know, we just got our first winter snowfall to speak of and I am thinking about spring already. But the time has come. I mean, it is January 17th. Last year I busted out my seeds and seed catalogs a week earlier. I pulled the bin of seeds from last year and years before that, spread out the seed catalogs and started doing some planing. I got interrupted several times so it took me most of the day, but I I figured what I need to order for our 2012 garden.

I have plenty of seeds, but I can’t use them all. The Danvers carrots from 2007 are just not reliable. Some might sprout but most likely will not. Lettuce seeds from last year? Might be good, might not. Pumpkins seeds on the other hand, saved even from 2007, will probably be OK. The big ones last longer. I had to determine what I want to plant, then go through my inventory, then decide where to purchase seeds I don’t have but want.

Mostly I plan to order seeds from High Mowing Organic Seeds. They are fairly local, so if they can make it grow, I probably can as well. I will also order some from Seed Savers Exchange. I love the work they do and they always have something new and different. I prefer to plant open pollinated varieties rather than hybrids, so it is fun to try something new each time. Potatoes, especially, are fun ones for me when it comes to experimenting. They are pretty easy to grow, and any variety will taste good one way or another, so why not try the pink ones? Of course, I have tried some varieties of vegetables that were not the greatest–red zebra tomatoes looked great but just didn’t taste as zowie as I wanted them to taste, and some carrots are so not as sweet as others–but mostly you can’t go wrong with food you grow yourself.

I had hoped to order seeds today but that will have to wait until later in the week. I had way too much playing outside with my daughter to do. The kids were outside a ton yesterday and today, despite the frigid temperatures (yesterday never got above 7 degrees and today the wind chill was below zero in the afternoon). I was proud of them. I didn’t want to be left out. And I do have time. I will likely plant some seeds indoors in March, which isn’t that far away, but I don’t need to order anything two-day shipping at this point. But still, it is hard to resist thinking about summer when the temperature is in the single digits and the wood stove is eating up logs.

So here’s to seed catalogs and the companies who print them! Thanks for bringing me a little summer today.

Zero and Snow

The temperature is, right now, zero degrees. It was cold today, high of eleven, but it is colder now. Below zero is what we will get tonight. I don’t want to harp on the weather. I mean, people talk about the weather a lot. It is a topic we all have in common. Strangers talk about it with each other. People with strained relationships talk about it. Long time friends talk about it. Of course, more people complain about it than talk about it, but still, I love weather. When it gets down to zero, I get excited. Below zero? It’s like a party at our house.

We also have some snow on the way. My wife is a weather junky. She doesn’t just check the forecast more than most people; she reads the detailed forecast discussion. This discussion is the chatter amongst meteorologists. They have their own language and she understands it. Here is an excerpt, referring to Tuesday into Wednesday:

AS OF 348 PM EST MONDAY...WK BOUNDARY MVS EAST OVER SOUTHERN NEW
ENGLAND DURING THE DAY TUESDAY. EXPECTING SNOW TO OVERSPREAD CWA
FROM S TO N BY MIDDAY. HEAVIEST MDL QPF TOTALS REMAIN TO THE
SOUTHERN ZONES IN PROXIMITY TO PASSING FEATURE. GOING FOR 1-3"
NORTH AND UP TO 2-4" SOUTH...WITH MAIN FOCUS OVER HIR TRRN. MDLS
TRENDING TOWARDS BREAK IN PRECIP BY MIDNGT WED BFR MAIN SURGE OF
SNOW BEGINS FROM LARGER LOW TOWARDS 09Z-12Z WED. THIS LOW WILL
TAKE SIMILAR TRACK AS PREVIOUS FEATURE...OVERSPREADING CWA BY 18Z
WED WITH LARGE QPF PLUME.

See what I’m saying? She gets this stuff. That is why I rely on her to keep me in the loop. The forecast changes enough that I think I know what is going on but I am often relying on old (like several hours old) predictions. She updates me when I have no idea, which is more often than I should admit. I do keep up on the forecast quite a bit, mind you, but I’m can’t say I’m sure what a “QPF plume” is.

The actual forecast calls for 8-14 inches of snow where we live over the next couple of days. That would be pretty sweet, if you ask me. Could be a snow day. Of course, a snow day for me is a hassle, as I have to rearrange my work schedule, but I’ll take it anyway. And it won’t be quite so cold. No blizzard for us, just plenty of that fluffy white stuff to keep things beautiful and to play in.

It is sometimes hard to believe that spring is only a couple of months away. I ordered seeds yesterday. At some point all this beautiful snow will melt and I will turn the soil and plant spinach and peas. Until then, however, I am going to slip on my ski boots and enjoy it while we’ve got it. Although, admittedly, I will probably wait until we get at least into single digit temperatures before I head outside.