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.