Monday, March 29, 2010

Kale and Roasted Vegetable Soup

Speaking of curly kale - I am going to be cheering up this very rainy, lazy day by using some of the lovely kale from the garden before the peacocks get their chance at it.  I'll be making this wonderful soup from the website simplyrecipes.com.  Great recipes and enough veggie fare to keep us vegetarians and flexitarians happy.  I've added the photo and link to their recipe page.  Kale and Roasted Vegetable Soup 

Delicious!  Enjoy the day,  Sybil

PS Every time I think of this newly minted term "flexitarian" for those of us who have moved to a mostly veggie diet with a few indulgences (although my wobbles off course are generally more due to laziness than indulgence), I have to chuckle over George Carlin's invention of the religion Frizbeetarianism - the belief that when you die, your soul flies up on top of the roof and gets stuck.   It also reminds me that there is a wealth of cookbooks featuring mostly meatless recipes at the Virginia Beach Public Library - well worth browsing for!

Defending the Garden!

I enjoyed a talk by darling friend Marie Butler (horticultural diva for the Virginia Zoo) at the Pungo library this Saturday - a talk which featured not only her fabulous plant combinations for containers and beds but a variety of tales of defending the plantings against the zoo peacocks.  My favorite was the story of the zoo gardeners planting kale into the stunning front containers of the zoo while the peacocks (who apparently love kale more than cake) not only ate the plants out of the large pots (reaching up from the ground) but were snatching the seedlings out of the six-pack containers sitting next to the gardeners while they transplanted. So much for my beautiful curly kale.  This weekend promises to be in the 80's and the peacocks shall be freed. I plan to have covers over the raised beds - photos to follow. Wish us all luck.  If they munch down everything in site, they may reappear at Wren House - who knows?  We'll just tell folks they are very, very, very large egrets.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Peacock Pals

Oh, they are so entertaining! Yes, I know that as soon as they begin free ranging the gardens are probably history.  It's such a hilarious decision but I truly do get a huge kick out of them.  And I agree, Iona - I love the calls. They don't bother me - or at least they didn't until I actually moved peacocks smack under my nose.  Right now these little ones (little meaning heads at hip level on me) mostly CLICK with concern - not a cluck but a very clear, loud CLICK.  They have sort of honked and fluffed the adolescent half-tails in a very charming manner.

The chickens are right next to them in their own pen and fully prepared to bully the young peacocks whenever possible.  The chickens pop through the separating fence and snatch peacock treats if any land near their side. Much outrage!  Clicking! Posturing!  It's my hope that the peacocks will sort of "bond" with the chicken flock and follow them back to the poultry area at night. Beats having them roost on the minivan.  Want to place early bets on where they opt to perch????

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Peacocks are Here!

The young peacocks have arrived and are settling down in their pen.  These are about half grown.  The long, elegant tails are just beginning to show and will develop over the next eighteen months.  Once the boys are acclimated to their new surroundings here at our farm, they will be let loose to free range the farm - undoubtably bringing havoc in their wake.  Let the entertainment begin!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Welcome to the new Easy-to-Read format

By request (make that plural) I'm trialing a new Blogger template that utilizes the full width of the most popular monitor screens to provide for easier reading.  Your thoughts?

Spring - Salad Greens are Underway!

The salad greens are well underway.  If a severe frost/freeze comes up in the next few weeks, I'll toss some Remay row cover fabric over them - and I do expect that freeze to occur, as it does so almost every year.

The hardiest lettuces are always the Romaine and Oakleaf varieties. Not surprisingly, the tender leaves of the butterhead types are the first to suffer from inclement weather.  My favorite varieties are Little Caesar romaine, which forms small, dense heads perfect for a salad, just cut in half and lay on a salad plate for a marvelous Caesar presentation. There is only one way to eat  Caesar salad and that is with genuine, fresh homemade Caesar dressing and yes, dears, you really do need anchovies for it.  I keep a tube of anchovy paste in the fridge  - bless whomever invented this wierd stuff! - and my ever-suspicious husband is none the wiser.  Check the following for a marvelous recipe and dinner idea:   Cooks.com Caesar Salad Dinner

But that's only the start of it.  For a startlingly beautiful salad, I always plant several of the multicolored lettuce varieties and the engaging, frilly looseleafs.  Now that's something you seldom, if ever, see in a supermarket. Tedious to clean garden dirt out of (mulch well with straw or paper!!) but wonderful.  One of the most adaptable romaine types is also the most striking - Forellenschuss. (see photo below) 
Forellenschuss is only available, as far as I've seen, from http://www.seedsavers.org/ , an organization dedicated to saving, sharing and preserving seed from as wide a collection of heirloom and current unpatented varieties as possible.  This photo is from their 2010 catalog. You can download the Adobe .pdf of their color catalog at the website.  More fabulous varieties than you can imagine.
Seed Savers Exchange is also a great cause. Protect the varieties you would like to have available before a giant corporation continues seizing them under bogus patents.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring Peas and Peepers

The balmy spring weather brings out the optimist in all of us. I spent this evening planting sugar pod peas - Sugar Snap and Super Sugar Snap. (Has anyone else noticed that some of the newer hybrids don't seem to be around this year?) The small vines yield an almost overwhelming supply of sweet, edible-podded peas in April.  Last year we planted sugar peas in late February, figuring that if they went in during April on the Great Lakes, surely they could go in earlier here.  No luck. The peas decayed in the cold, wet soil. Replanted in March, they went on to flourish. 

One problem I've noticed this year - there seems to be a shortage of bean and pea innoculant. All the legumes, including beans, peas and clovers, fix nitrogen into the soil.  Because of this, my peas will not only be providing me with a delicious early veggie snack supply but they will also be making the bed where they are planted richer in nitrogen - fertilizing it, in essence - which will make it even better for the crops to follow when the peas are done and the hot weather veggies go in.  The innoculant is a beneficial bacteria. Rhizobial bacteria form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the legumes and "fix" nitrogen from the air into nodules on the roots... from there the nodules feed the plants and add to the nutrients in the soil.  Folks debate whether it's worthwhile or not and if you are replanting peas or beans where you've had them before, it's likely the rhizobia are already present in the soil. But I like to add it -- and now I've visited four garden departments or stores where the employees had No Clue what I was talking about! Bah!

Last note:  Although we are always colder out here than in town, we did reach 70 degrees yesterday (holding at 68 today) and HERE THEY ARE!  While I sit here on the back porch blogging, I can hear the first Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer)   chiming on the edge of the wetlands like delicate bells. If you would like to hear what Spring Peepers sound like for your own ID, go here: U.of Wisconsin - Spring Peepers .

The country folklore where I grew up said that the Peepers had to freeze three times before spring would arrive.  It's as good a way as any other to count down to the Average Last Frost Date (a myth if I've ever read one).  So, if you are counting.... one for the Peepers!

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's Time to Grow Your Own

I don't think there has ever been a better time to learn to grow your own fresh food - or to commit to growing more of it, if you are already gardening.  Times are tight and the last thing we need is more expensive groceries -- especially if those foods are lower quality -- and that is a problem folks may be facing this season.

This week CNN news reported that over 70% of the tomato crop in Florida was killed by cold weather -- along with green beans, early "summer" squash varieties and early sweet corn. Those are just the obvious veggies.  Citrus has been damaged, strawberries froze, avocado harvests will be affected.... in short, you can expect very expensive veggies all the way around this spring. Restaurants are already making tomatoes a "by request only" option on sandwiches. The same harvest problems extend to some of the southwestern agriculture states as well.

Herald Tribune, Florida Freeze Spikes Costs

Florida Ledger, Strawberry Blues

"The average wholesale price for a 25-pound box of tomatoes is now $30, up from $6.50 a year ago. Florida's growers would normally ship about 25 million pounds of tomatoes a week; right now, they're shipping less than a quarter of that, according to Reggie Brown of the Florida Tomato Grower's Exchange, a tomato farmer cooperative in Maitland."  TDS News   

Meanwhile, the earthquakes have decimated many of the wineries and vineyards in Chile and, in case you've been reading those little labels on your fruits and veggies, Chile is one of our major produce import sources.

What does this mean?  Well, at least briefly, Americans may have to recognize that produce is real, living stuff and its supply can't be guaranteed.  A majority of the fruits and vegetables we eat are not actually in season anywhere near us -- and the steady availability of things like strawberries, tomatoes and zucchini is the result of a very complex system of growers, distributors and transportation that may cover thousands of miles.  And it can all be stopped cold by a severe freeze.
 
But you can Grow Your Own - the best, the freshest, the most delightful food possible.  I am determinedly dedicated to the belief that most people, regardless of location and space (or lack of it) can have the fun and satisfaction of growing at least some of their fruits and vegetables themselves.  Not convinced?  Join me next Saturday, March 13, 10:30 am at the Pungo/Blackwater library for a free presentation on Edible Gardening - re-create your yard and gardens with beautiful, ornamental and health-giving fruits and vegetables. Get creative, get healthy... and grow some of your own groceries! http://www.usefulgardens.com/id10.html

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A New Gardening Season Begins!

We're back!   After a short break, it's time to start blogging through the 2010 gardening season.

March has arrived and gifted us with a sunny, mild day after weeks of February's frigid desolation.  March, to me, is the start of the spring gardening season in Tidewater. Although some hardy plants have bravely carried on in the winter garden, notably the Edgeworthia crysantha blooms and the early green shoots of the daffodils, the continuous cold of this year's February weather has blessed the perennials and shrubs with a solid, hibernating dormancy.  Much easier on plants than our usual early roller-coaster temperatures of 60's daytime and 20's at night.  The sap should only now begin rising on most of the farm plants.

Most gratifying to me is the discovery that my oakleaf lettuce varieties continued growing all winter - with temperature reaching below 10 degrees - with only a light floating row cover for protection.  The leaves were freeze "burned" but the plants are fine.  This will give us a nice jump on spring salads while the newly seeded lettuces and mescluns get started in the unheated greenhouse. 

For those of you who are working to stay within our region for your food choices, I recommend planning for some fall salad beds that you can carry through the winter.  Fresh lettuce, kale, mustards - even young collard leaves - make delicious, spicy winter salads full of good vitamins.  Forget the old notions that winter greens must be types you boil into a soggy "mess of greens".   Skeptical about raw greens?  Check out this delicious recipe from the epicurious.com website:  Kale Salad with Pinenuts, Currants and Parmesan .