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.

More to Pick

Late Summer Bounty

I picked a few more things from our garden today.  The harvest is winding down but we do have more to pick.  I wanted some leaks for dinner (to start off the pumpkin soup) and I had to pick the zucchini before it got enormous. The cucumbers needed to be cut off the vine (they have been getting bitter quickly) and that pepper is going with the roasted potatoes. The melon was iffy.  I am hoping it is ripe as I want to serve it with dinner. If not we have a back up watermelon and a few slices from the last melon from our garden (tastes like candy).

Yet to go: three or four more melons, a few peppers, maybe a zucchini or two, a couple of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes out the wazoo, lots of leeks.  We have several green tomatoes still as well. That isn’t bad for September. And did I mention the basil? More pesto for the freezer (and for immediate consumption) is in the works. Like I said, not bad for September.

Back from Busy

We have been out and about for a couple of weeks now, so no posts here on Mercury on the Move. We travelled to New Hampshire and Maine and returned for some R & R from our R & R. Our garden has gone crazy, despite the minimal rain. The garlic all needs to be pulled now. Potatoes are ready to be dug up. Basil has filled out and should be pesto-ed. We have a few zucchini that are way too large. Those things grow like nuts, I tell you. We even have a couple of melons that are looking good, and the popcorn is maturing nicely. My daughter picked some carrots today (despite the “don’t pick anything until you ask” rule). So our garden has been doing well on its own. No need for a gardener for a couple of weeks.

We ate sandwiches tonight for dinner–cucumbers and lettuce and tomatoes. Our tomatoes are finally weighing down the vines with ripe fruit. And they are tasty as can be. The bonus this summer is that we have some cilantro that is ready now as well, as are some onions, so we can make fresh salsa with ingredients mostly from our garden. Maybe tomorrow.

I borrowed a power washer from a neighbor this morning and, after a couple of hours of trying to get the thing to hold pressure, I managed to wash the west side of the house. It looks mighty clean, even though lots of paint was washed off in the process. I hope to get at least started on painting that side tomorrow. I did put in some good work today, as I had to do some hefty trimming of trees and shrubs to get at the wall to wash it. The weather keeps holding for me as well, so I may be able to get that side completed before the summer ends for me.

The wild card here is my eye. I managed to poke myself in the eye with my sunglasses a few days ago. We drove back from Maine with my eye tearing and blurry and, worst of all, in lots of pain. I drove right to the doctor who told me I indeed tore my cornea. It has to take some time to heal and I am smudging this petroleum gel goop into my eye to ward off infection as well. Today it felt decent, but I do have to wear glasses instead of contact lenses, so bright sun is a bear. Luckily the side I need to stain next gets sun only late in the day. If I get started early, and I am careful enough to avoid dripping paint on my glasses, I should make some progress.

We have one more small adventure planned for the summer, but that is only a couple of days. I might just get my project done after all. I did decide to leave the north side of the house for next summer. Why stress about it? We want to apply some funky spray to the house to keep the cluster flies at bay this winter, and painting is a no go after that happens. I will, I admit, be happy to have three sides stained, plus the porch. That is a fair amount for one guy for a summer. I’ll call it good.

I will also enjoy some fresh salsa while I’m at it. And some pesto. And other good stuff. Fall will be fine.

Pile O’ Bounty

Pile of Quality Food, Grown Right Here

Pile of Quality Food, Grown Right Here

Had a good harvest day yesterday.  We picked our first tomatoes yesterday–three Crimson Sprinters.  The Cosmonaut Volkovs should be ready later this week.  Before we know it we will have more tomatoes than we can handle.  If only I could get them to be ripe earlier.

We also ate corn last night for dinner.  We got it from the farm in Richmond, Conant’s Riverside Farm, where we used to get it a lot, until we moved to Hinesburg.  This is our first time eating corn from there this summer, since my daughter and I were passing by there yesterday afternoon.  That corn is quality stuff.  One of these days I will try again to grow sweet corn.  Popcorn is growing well in our garden but it won’t be ready for a while.

We need to keep on it or things will get overripe.  Another warm and sunny day today–we won’t have to worry about what’s for dinner, just how to prepare it.  With the leftover corn from last night, and all the tomatoes on the way, a corn tomato chowder may be on deck for tonight.  Plus maybe coffee ice cream.  Who would say not to that?

From Groton to Gratin

Swimming in Groton

Swimming in Groton

Yesterday we were on the tail end of a trip to Ricker Pond State Park to camp overnight with friends.  It is part of Groton State Forest which, I learned a couple days ago, is the second largest state landholding.  I am guessing the first is Camel’s Hump State Forest.  That is a big one, too.  We swam lots and ate s’mores and slept on the bumpy lumpy campsite floor and listened to loons.  We had a fine time, squeezing one more tent adventure into our summer.

The summer is fading fast.  This evening, after dinner, feels a little like fall.  The light is swinging around and it is getting darker earlier.  The air has a bit of a chill.  But we are having none of it.  Tonight I crafted a summer gratin and I am, as I write, making the turns that will result in peach ice cream.  That is as summer as it gets.

This gratin is a dandy of a dinner.  Made with almost all local ingredients (hard to get local olive oil and parmesan round here) it is hot and crisp and juicy and just plain old delicious.  The basics:

1. Slowly saute a bunch of onions or leeks (I used both–bunching onions from our CSA and leeks from our garden) and add garlic at the end

2. Slice up tomatoes, potatoes par-boiled to get them nice and tender), zucchini and yellow squash and mix with oil and herbs

3. Arrange in layers with parmesan and cheddar in between, tossing in salt and pepper and fresh herbs (I used thyme and basil grown right here)

4. Sprinkle the top with grated parmesan and bake at 375 degrees for 70 minutes.

5.  Cool ten minutes and serve it up

6. You got yourself a gratin.

Gratin Just Prior to Consumption

Gratin Just Prior to Consumption

I’m telling you, it is tasty–fresh hot and delicious and the pizza box says.  Yesterday we were in Groton; today gratin was in us.

The sun fades on a perfect August day.  The clouds are tipped in pink and yellow.  Black eyed susans and day lilies bloom along the edge of the field.  Crickets chirp.  The smell of freshly cut hay drifts across the fields.  And peach ice cream on the way.  That’ll do.

On the Lake for a Week

Leaving the Island, Heading Home, Looking Back

Leaving the Island, Heading Home, Looking Back

When I was in high school I read an essay called Return to the Lake.  I remember that it was a good read, although I couldn’t tell you who wrote it, and I remember that I, along with some other folks, visited Lake Winnepesaukee soon after reading it.  The essay was essentially about visiting, as an adult, a lake that had had meaning when the writer was younger.  I returned to my own lake this past week.

We all went, this nuclear family of mine.  We swam and swam and ate and swam some more.  My children love the place, that place being Three Mile Island Camp.  It is an Appalachian Mountain Club camp where I worked twenty years ago.  I loved it then.  It had a huge impact on my life.  It still is pretty good.

We stayed in a couple of tiny adjacent rustic cabins right on the lake.  I got up every morning, looked out at the still water for ten minutes or so, laid my glasses on the dock, and slipped into the water.  I felt cool and calm.  Some mornings I swam with loons.  One morning I swam in the rain.  Then I climbed back to the small porch and waited for my wife and my children to waken.

We had little to do all day.  Meals are prepared by the staff and they do the clean-up.  The cabins have no electricity, although the main house where family style meals are served does.  We played and swam and rested and spent time with friends.  We ate at the appropriate times.  When it rained we hung out on the porch and drank tea and chatted while the children played games inside.  Life is pretty good like that.

Home today we cranked out laundry and mowed the lawn and picked the abundant vegetables from out garden.  Check this out:

A Few Veggies Ripe After a Week

A Few Veggies Ripe After a Week

We ate salad and corn on the cob (local but not ours) and blueberries (we even had some of those ripe!) and veggy burgers for dinner.  We looked out over the field and decided it is as good as looking out over a lake.  It was hot.  If we were still on the lake we would have just jumped in the drink to cool off.

The air has cooled now.  The children are off to bed early.  I am happy to be home.  I could have stayed longer but, like Christmas, experiencing it only once every year increases its appeal and its value.  If we lived there year round we couldn’t have this amazing garden.  We will return next year to swim and to play and to rest.  We have some of that to do around here in the remaining days of summer.  And a little work to do as well.

Once we get enough work done, we can return to the lake once again.  And we will love being there all over again.

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.