Better with Snow

Walking out in the field recently has meant crushing the ice-covered grass stalks. I kept feeling like I was killing it, the fragile stems breaking under my boots. But now we have snow! It feels like we have had a hundred days of gray skies and damp air and chilliness. Dreary. Usually I take whatever weather comes. Complaining about the weather is a bit annoying, I have to admit. Why grumble about something that can’t be changed? I have been a bit more sympathetic lately, however. All that gloominess.

However, this past week has brought snow. It snowed heavily for a while–that beautiful white stuff falling to cover the brown and gray. It makes everything lighter. Even at night the world is brighter. Our boots don’t smash the grass but plow through the snow instead. It feels gentler, softer, quieter. The world around us is covered in beauty. The bareness of winter has its own beauty, for sure, but this is magical.

I have been thinking lately of what to plant in our garden. Now it is covered in snow so it will be a while before I can turn the dirt and sink in some seeds. But January is the time to dream of spring. Rosemary and thyme still grow in that cold soil. Last night I had to dig through snow to cut some thyme springs. Hard to believe it is still green. It made a difference to dinner. I managed to plant garlic in the fall and that sleeps, waiting for warmth. And there are all those empty beds to imagine full of plants–tomatoes and carrots and pumpkins and potatoes. What new varieties can I try? It is about time to order some seeds.

The trees are covered in snow. It falls now with more on the way tonight. It does not have to be much. A dusting is enough. Maybe fairy dust is really just snow. The Snow Buntings came back last week. They have been flying around the fields, although they have yet to discover the seed I keep leaving on the ground for them outside our windows. They are like fairies they way they float and appear from nowhere. Snow I tell you–magical stuff.

Pumpkin. Plus Pumpkin.

IMG_5324Thanksgiving is on the horizon so today I did a little prep for it. I baked up and then pureed the two pie pumpkins that have been waiting on the counter for just this holiday. My plan is to bake a pumpkin pie (natch) as well as a pumpkin cheesecake. The pie will be light and delicate. I like it like that, different than the denser pumpkin pies I admit to also readily enjoying. The cheesecake will be heavier, a thick creamy cylinder of deliciousness.

Once the pumpkins were out of the oven and cooled and pureed, I tossed the pumpkin seeds with a little oil and a little salt and roasted them up in the hot oven for a pre-dinner snack. They made a fine pre-dinner snack. While I turned those seeds in the oven, and while I whipped up dinner itself, I sipped my latest beer–a pumpkin ale, light on the spice.

I like a decent pumpkin ale but most of the ones I have tried are pumpkin spice ales, heavy on the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and hardly tasting of pumpkin. I created this beer to have an ale worthy of the squash moniker. It has a zip to it that makes me say Hmm as well as Mmm. Good stuff.

On another note, I finally (finally) planted the dang garlic. The last week has been crazy cold and things have begun to freeze up. Today, however, offered a warm enough window. I dug up one garden bed and popped in some bulbs saved from this year’s harvest. Hopefully they will appear as green shoots in the spring.

While I will have to wait many months for the garlic, next week I will get to enjoy a pumpkin pie, a pumpkin cheesecake and a fine pumpkin ale, all in one day. In the meantime, there are these toasted pumpkin seeds to polish off. You know, before they get stale.

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:


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.

Purple Loosestrife

Purple Loosestrife (Caroline Savage, Saint Lawrence Centre)

Purple Loosestrife (Caroline Savage, Saint Lawrence Centre)

I noticed it two years ago.  The showy purple flowers, standing tall like spears amongst the cattails.  I knew what it was and thought, “I should get rid of that stuff.”  I pulled some of it, in the ditch next to the road, but the plants deep in the wet part of the field I just left.  Next year I would get it.

By this year it was well established.  It has really spread from the few plants I saw two years ago.  A few weeks ago I pulled some of it.  I tried to get all of it at one end of the field, where there were only a few plants.  I dug up a few more in the broad field and along the road.  Then I put it off.  That stuff is hard to pull out of the ground.  I got out there today and had some work to do.

Purple Loosestrife was brought to North America in the 19th century as a source for medicines and through ship balast.  It was further introduced when it was brought to gardens as a perennial flower.  Canals and roads helped it spread.  It is beautiful.  The flowers are tall and colorful and shine in the sun.  But it is also trouble.  The plant likes wet areas and can take over, outcompeting native plants and clogging the place right up.  It spreads underground, roots sprouting new stalks, and it also produces zillions of tiny seeds.  I had to take action.

Let me say right off that I did not get the job done.  I pulled some up by the roots, prying with a fork, but most of it I just clipped with pruning shears.  I would have preferred to yank it out but there is too much at this point.  I needed to at least get the flowers out so they don’t go to seed.  I clipped and dragged and pulled and piled for a while.  I got cut up and sweaty and tired and had three huge piles of stalks.  When I looked back, I could see that it at least was contained a little more.  I had kept it from spreading, a little.  If I can get out there again this week, the field will be better off.  If I can at least cut it all, I will have a head start next summer.

There is no way it is going away any time soon.  Even if I were to dig up all of it, it would likely come back sooner or later.  It is tenacious and voracious.  And we have a great spot for it.  I may be pulling it for as long as we live here.  Apparently one can use herbicides to control it.  I say no thanks to that.  And there are some insects that might snack on it, but I hesitate to take that route. One invasive species is enough.  If I can scale the plant back every year, there is a chance I might get rid of it eventually.  It will take some time, however, and a lot of work.  For our field to stay healthy, however, it needs to be done.  And ain’t nobody else taking on that task.

Stories Before Bed

The children love it when I tell them stories before bed.  The stories are all over the map.  Sometimes they are easy–a spin on the Thomas the Tank Engine stories for example.  Sometimes they are exotic, like the family that sails around the world and visits various sites.  Sometimes they are just plain silly.  If want to get them to sleep faster, I do what I can to make them boring.

I put the kids to bed last night, so they got a decent story.  It was about a group of explorers who traveled the southwest looking for a magic rock.  They narrowed it down and then searched for weeks by foot, drinking water from puddles and peering under cactus plants.  Finally, they discovered a staircase made of narrow steps in a steep wall that could only be seen in the setting sun.  After waiting the night, they climbed the dangerous wall and discovered the rock among thousand year old corn and baskets.  It turns out all of them made a wish and the wish came true.  Was it because of the magic rock?  Or not?

They left the rock in its place and told no one about it, so who knows?  The kids went to bed wondering.  This can backfire, of course, when they keep asking questions about the story.  Tonight my wife puts the kids to bed.  They asked for me and complained when I said no, it was Mom’s turn.  She doesn’t tell the same caliber of stories, I guess, at least not as regularly.

I like the ones where the family travels the world.  They see all kinds of interesting things and meet curious people, like the woman who wears only purple who seems to show up on every continent.  How does she get around, that purple woman?  I get to imagine that our family is doing the traveling, and I hope I am planting the seeds for our children to want to travel.  One of these days we may.

They are drifting off now, story over, such as it was tonight.  I need to plan ahead for tomorrow night’s story.  I am not sure what it will contain, but the purple woman hasn’t made and appearance in far too long.  She needs some story time.  I am thinking she may get it in about 24 hours.

Onions and Leeks on the Rise

Green Inside and Green Outside

Green Inside and Green Outside

Check these babies out.  I planted these almost six weeks ago, leeks on the left, onions on the right.  I got a great yield–all but one cell has sprouts.  I have had to clip them a few times–that smelled good.

Last year I planted leeks because my seed packet of onions only had a few seeds.  They worked so well I decided to plant both this year.  So far I have been pleased.  The onions I did manage to get last year grew well and were tasty.  I look forward to eating them once they mature.  That is a long way off, but I am patient.  Gardening seems to require patience.

As you can see through the window above, things are getting green out there.  I will plant in a couple of weeks.  I still need to edge the garden beds and pluck some weeds, but I will be ready in time.  The sooner I get plants in the ground, the sooner we get to eat fresh vegetables.  Although we had frost the past couple of mornings, summer is just around the corner.

The peppers (from seeds I saved) so far are duds, as are the cherry tomatoes (two years old) but heck, something will grow.  I am so ambitious that I probably have too much to fit in our garden space anyway.  I can hardly wait to get my hands dirty and plant more seeds.  I get giddy just thinking about it.

Tomatoes Up

I planted tomatoes in foam cells a few days before we went away for a few days.  I was hoping they would be popping out of the dirt when we returned.  They were not.  They were still buried.  Pokey seeds.  I was worried they might be duds.  The next day was eight degrees plus.  They started to rise then.  I guess they like it hot.

No peppers have risen yet.  I planted those at the same time as the tomatoes.  Pokier seeds.  The leeks and onions are doing fine, curling all over.  I had to give them another haircut tonight.  That smelled pretty dang good.  In two or three weeks I will plant all this stuff in the ground.  I am looking to plant other things earlier–peas, lettuce, carrots maybe.  Pumpkins.  We’ll have to see about the weather.

I planted an oak tree from an acorn with the children last June.  It was a father’s day gift.  I never planted it and then winter came.  I thought i would plant it this spring.  When we returned from our trip it was dried out.  I thought watering it would help it bounce back.  It isn’t dead but it is still pretty limp.  I guess you shouldn’t treat your trees like dirt.

The tomatoes are pretty wiry at this point.  I’ll need to bury them deep so they grow well.  I decided not to repot them this year to see what happens.  I thought maybe I wouldn’t lose as many that way.  Last year I repotted once, the year before twice.  I’m all about efficiency.  I still need to prepare the garden.  It is in pretty good shape but the lawn keeps encroaching.  Too bad we can’t eat that.  Tomatoes are tastier.

Things are greening up all over the place.  I am again amazed at how winter turns to spring and then all of a sudden it is summer.  I can’t imagine ever getting tired of that.  I say “wow” a lot this time of year.  I watched a vulture swoop low over the field tonight.  My son and I said “wow” together.  It was in the eighties again today.  That is a wow in itself.  We watched snow fall last month.

So things are growing.  Hopefully I can translate that into some food and some beauty in our garden.  I can almost taste the tomatoes and lettuce and onion sandwiches on homemade honey oat bread with Cabot extra shart cheddar cheese.  Oh crap, I just drooled on myself.  Keep growing tomatoes.


In January of every year I look forward to busting out the various seed catalogs and ordering seeds for spring planting.  January may seem a little early but it is about right.  If something isn’t available an early order gives me time to order something else, or to order elsewhere.  Plus it just gets me fired up.  Thinking of fresh produce in the dark days of the year helps remind me of the warm days that really are not that far away.

This year I spread the catalogs and was planning what to order and from where to order it, when I serendipitously uncovered, buried on the desk, an order form for seeds.  It was for a fund raiser for my son’s school.  They were from a local company, High Mowing Seeds.  Their selection was more limited than I had been looking at in my many catalogs, but they had pretty much what I needed.  I don’t know why I hadn’t looked at this company before.  So I put away the catalogs and filled out the order form.

Yesterday the seeds arrived.  It took a while, of course, but I am still in good shape.  Next weekend is the weekend to start planting.  Not outside, of course.  The ground is still frozen.  I will take down the foam cells from the shelf in the garage and plant onions and leeks.  Last year I planted both of these and they grew well once I transplanted them.  I can hardly wait to get my hands dirty.  In the past the children have helped me and I hope they are just as eager this year.  It is a fun family project.  Plus, we can all get a little muddy together.

Last year about this time I did plant onions but not many.  The seed packet I got from Seeds of Change contained only seven seeds.  It was supposed to have contained about 100 seeds.  That wasn’t what I was expecting.  I wanted to plant right then and so I couldn’t wait to order more seeds.  So I went to the hardware store to find some.  They had seeds but no onion seeds.  Apparently no one plants onions from seed around here.  They buy onion sets, the mini bulbs, and plant those instead.  So I bought leeks.

That purchase was an accidental discovery.  We had lots of leeks.  They grew well.  The lasted a long time.  They were delicious (those grilled leek, summer squash, portobello mushroom sandwiches with melted cheddar were dreamy) and I want to plant them again.  I am hooked on leeks and I can hardly wait until they are ripe.

Seeds of Change did me right this time around.  I called and told them what happened and they sent me a fresh packet of onion seeds.  Their seeds have been great and now I know their customer service is great as well.  I will order from them again.  High Mowing Seeds have been great as well.  I planted some lettuce from seeds a friend gave us and it was the best lettuce of five varieties we have grown.  I am guessing I will have some good success all around.

I need to bust out the plant rack from the basement to set the seeds trays on.  I will plant fewer plants indoors this year.  Cucumbers will do fine if I plant them outside, maybe even better.  In a few weeks I will plant tomatoes, and maybe melons.  The rest can wait until the ground thaws.  I will also give some seeds to the kids.  They can have their own corner of the garden.  They won’t be planting onions in their plot, however.  I’ll let them grow something they might like.

March is here, baby.  Let’s get planting.