Friday, November 26, 2010

Why go Hungry?

You know, when you garden - really garden, taking joy in growing flowers, fruits and food, not just hastily plonking a few shrubs and overused annuals here and there and tossing a bunch of pre-fab mulch about - you quickly discover that there is no shortage of food. Not really.  And when you begin to garden seriously and your landscape becomes increasingly filled with edible plants, you realize that there are ARMLOADS of food that will grow in your yard.  Yes, that yard- the one that is still mostly grass to mow.  (And for the record, ours is the same way.)

Why am I on this rant?  Because all fall I was inundated with fresh chestnuts.  Yes, the same chestnuts that are selling online in specialty gourmet stores for prices from $7.50 (plus about $8 shipping) to $28.00 a POUND in some cities.  And I've heard at least three people reminiscing tenderly about bygone holidays, wishing there were still chestnuts to roast.  Well, hello! There are! I'm growing them and so can anyone else.

Yes, nut trees take time - but it becomes so worthwhile. Planting a tree is gardening on a completely different scale. We tend to become too focused on quick results, especially in a community where so many residents are military transients. Why plant a tree you may not get to see reach maturity? you ever stop and wonder, what if everyone in the past had felt that way?  A tree is your gift to your community, the wildlife in your habitat and to the future.

And, just a reminder, not every chestnut in the world went down with the terrible chestnut blight.  When the great American chestnuts had all but disappeared in one of the great ecological disasters ever to occur in this country, two dedicated horticulturists, James Carpentar of Salem, Ohio and Dr. Robert T. Dunstan of Greensboro, N.C, discovered ONE blight resistant tree (just one!) and set about reconstructing an entire population of chestnuts. The resulting Dunstan chestnuts are wonderful trees - not as huge (yet) or as interwoven into the fabric of America, but fast growing and loaded with fabulous nuts.  I can attest.  I'm eating several as I type with hundreds more on the ground.

You can read this inspiring history at:

Nice folks. Great place to get yourselves a few Chestnut trees of your own.

But back to my original point:  At our little farm, we've spent this entire year with lots and lots (did I mention lots?) of food in our yard. Tomatoes, vegetables, blackberries, blueberries, figs, Asian persimmons and Asian pears, (so many that the poor young trees broke in places under the load).  Most of these are items that are hard to find or expensive in the stores.  And here they all are.  For a very modest start-up investment over the past decade and not particularly much work, truth be told.

You know, if every family planted just a few edible plants - some berry bushes, a fig tree or two, a small veggie garden - I believe it would change the health of the community, increase the overall feeling of pride in the community, and change - in many subtle ways - the way we view food and economy and self-reliance.  We need to plant more gardens and teach others how to plant gardens.

I'm just plain for gardens. I'm for back yard gardens, front yard gardens, community gardens, school gardens, church gardens....

I believe it's never too late for a personal Victory Garden. Or a town full of them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Time Flies When You're Not Having Fun

Wow!  Where did November go?  Since my darling mom-in-law fell and broke her leg, the weeks have flown by in a rush of hospital visits, doctor visits, rehab facility set-ups..... you name it.  All the non-joys of getting old(er).  It doesn't take much to knock my schedule sideways and this was Very Much.

Gardening? Oh, please! My gardens no longer know who I am.  My beautiful To-Do List of autumn chores, carefully planned so that each garden bed would be ready for the cold winter months, will never be accomplished. Now, it's a matter of doing a bit here and there, mostly to enjoy what lovely days are left to us.

What's happening in the garden?  Oh, my.  We are FEASTING on pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana), which is our favorite fruit in the world. (And, I have to point out that since fruits have long been our specialty, that's really saying something.) It's taken five years to really get the bushes going but the rewards ..... (happy lip smacking)....  This is perhaps the fruit I most recommend to SE Virginia gardeners - such a lovely evergreen bush/tree, stunning flowers and, finally, amazing fruits.

Life, even in the midst of calamity, is good.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Find the Tiny Possum

Tiny possum decided to take up residence in an old bird's nest in one of our Chindo viburnums. Drove the small dogs crazy.  Tender-hearted VBAC officer picked up said possum and transported it a few miles down the road. 

We already know from experience that just moving them to another part of the farm does nothing.... and possums and small dogs are not at all a Good Mix.  (No, the VVBAC officer didn't murder it -  thank heavens that policy has been rescinded.)

This is the lovely and very kind VBAC officer admiring her "catch".  Possum had an earlier injury to its tail, hopefully not from one of our pups.  Despite all their shots, I really didn't want them swapping bodily fluids with a possum.  Uck.

Turns out that if you hold a possum by the naked, prehensile tail, they can't muster enough "ab" muscle strength to curl up and bite you. 

This, and my predisposition to napping, have made me seriously consider what portion of my ancestral gene pool contains possum.  I shall  be thinking of this in the next Pilates class where I'll be doing my best to Play Dead.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tea Time!

The tea Camellia is in full bloom! One of the thrills of fall!  I love the contrast between the simple, white and yellow blossoms and the deep green foliage.  

Most folks don't realize that tea - yes, the "real" tea (Camellia sinensis), will grow here but it will and it is a delight.

I didn't pick any leaves this spring but perhaps next spring I'll take another try at creating my own green tea.  Right now, I'm happy to enjoy the beauty.

The Virginia Camellia Society has had Camellia sinensis for sale at their show in the past - in fact, I remember them being the first place I ever got tips on turning my C. sinensis bush into a cup of tea !-  so if you covet a tea plant of your own, you should try the upcoming sale at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.  For details, click here:  VCS Fall Show and Sale.

The best info I've found online giving directions on processing your own tea is here: - Growing Your Own Tea.  If anyone has more or better info, please share!

A History of Tea in America  links to a really interesting article that Martha Bowes wrote for about 10 years ago.  It traces tea from indigenous plants found in the northeast all the way through the Charleston Tea Plantation that flourished as one of the few, if not the only, independent commercial tea plantation in the United States. There were a lot of us who loved that tea and the idea that it was a sort of "family business" rather than a corporation.  Alas, things went awry and the plantation was sold in 2003 to the Bigelow tea company for over a million dollars (not a bad investment, it appears). Brief synopsis of the plantation's history is here: Charleston Tea Company

Now... growing coffee?  Well, that's been a lot tougher!  One thing about all this self-sufficiency?  I almost never grouse about the price on the products (like tea and coffee) that I love.  There's nothing like trying to do it yourself to make you appreciate having others grow and process it for you!