Leaving Leaves

Yesterday I finally got around to the yard leaf cleanup. I’d been putting it off until the majority of leaves had fallen. Having oak trees around means that’s comparatively late and with a vernal witchhazel that holds its leaves all winter it also means I’m not going to get everything. But no worries! The leaves aren’t really  going anywhere anyway.

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Years ago it occurred to me that I was wasting a LOT of time raking leaves and either putting them on the curb for the city to pick up or shredding them into the compost bins. For the free organic matter I wasn’t sending away I was putting time and effort into speeding up a process that would happen eventually on its own. So I stopped. I only clear them off the paved surfaces and the very small lawn in the back yard. There is no lawn in front. Over winter some of this free, natural, organic mulch tends to shift around and leave bare spots so I like to pack one of the compost bins with dry oak leaves to replenish those areas in spring.

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Because my gardens are all in varying degrees of shade I’ve relied quite a bit on hostas to fill up space. Until I stopped raking I had problems with slugs chewing on the leaves. Conventional wisdom is that getting rid of that organic matter discourages slugs. When I started leaving the leaves the slug damage stopped. I can’t be certain why, but I suspect it’s either that they had more to eat at safe, moist, ground level and left the hostas alone or that this healthier habitat for invertebrates encouraged slug predators that are keeping them in check. In any case, my hostas look great all season.

Habitat Signs

Not only are my plants healthier now, this lazy approach to gardening has helped make it possible to certify the yard as a wildlife habitat and to provide resources for pollinators as well.

Recently I’ve been coming across articles encouraging leaving fallen leaves for wildlife like these from The Xerces Society, The National Wildlife Federation and Habitat Network. How do you handle your autumn leaves? I encourage you to do some reading and, if you’re able, consider leaving them in place. Wildlife and your back will thank you.

Naked Gardening

October is here and we’re turning our attention to scary orange things! Actually, this story goes all the way back to last year. At Halloween I like to save some seeds from the pumpkins I carve for the occasion. Like so many other people, I wash and roast them and then sit around peeling and eating them. As I did so one chilly autumn evening, I contemplated the pepitas one buys for Mexican cooking. They don’t have that hard, flavorless shell my pumpkin seeds have that need to be cracked and peeled before consuming. I occurred to me there must be some trick to doing them in volume economically. A machine maybe? I did a little searching on the Internet and discovered something even better: naked pumpkin seeds! Well, more properly, hulless pumpkin seeds. These are varieties that have bred away the hard seed coat to where it’s just a thin, soft membrane. I don’t know that these are what are grown make the pepitas at the store, but they sounded like such a good idea. Unfortunately, pumpkins are space-consuming crop to grow so I filed away this tidbit for when we have a bigger garden.

Then, as luck would have it, one of the bloggers I follow did a post about a hulless pumpkin aptly named ‘Lady Godiva.’ The author of My Food and Flowers is a Taiwanese gardener living in Canada who, apparently, grows absolutely everything in the world. When wrote about ‘Lady Godiva’ and I mentioned I wanted to grow this kind of pumpkin some day she kindly sent me some seeds.

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I started them indoors in April and then set one out when the ground was nice and warm in the beds I had designated for squash and cucumbers. The vine grew pretty long, but I was able to weave it in and around other plants to accommodate it. By early September I had one nice pumpkin that was ready to pick.

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The dark seeds were easy to see through their thin, transparent shells.

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It was practically no work at all to rake the seeds out of the stringy flesh with my fingers. They came out nice and clean and only needed a rinse before roasting. There was about half a cup of seeds in this one pumpkin. I didn’t want to spend this precious bounty in a sauce where the flavor might not be as well appreciated so I opted for roasting them as a snack. I spread them out on a cookie sheet, sprinkled on some salt and left them in the oven until they started making popping noises. They’re delicious! Given how easy they are to grow and harvest, I would definitely plant these again in sufficient numbers for real cooking once we have the space.

Onions

Today is so nice out I decided the onions and garlic had cured long enough so I hauled them all outside to clean up and trim before putting them in winter storage.

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I planted fewer than I did last year and, fortunately, wasn’t plagued with another round of that fungus that attacked them. What I don’t get is why there is such a disparity of size among them.

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Granted, they start out as different sized plants from the garden center, but not this different! They all went in the same bed and at the same time so I can’t blame soil or water differences. The sizes were all mixed up in the bed. Maybe next year I’ll try fertilizing them, or fertilizing some and not others and see if that makes a difference. In the meantime, it’s kind of nice to be able to select just as much onion as I need for a recipe and not have to put leftover bits in the refrigerator.

Tea and Not Tea

I drink tea. Brewing a pot is the first thing I do most days and enjoying it while I catch up on my reading is a morning ritual I’m loath to give up. I made the switch from coffee a number of years ago, and while I still enjoy the occasional cup of joe, it’s tea I more often turn to when the situation calls for a stimulating hot beverage. We’re lucky to have a great tea purveyor in town who operated a lounge where I would go and write on my days off. It closed to the dismay of many, but they have re-emerged in another location as a tea bar so I can restock easily whenever my supply of favorite leaves gets low. Having such easy access to great tea and the good advice of a knowledgeable vendor let me become a tea snob. Specifically, if it wasn’t the leaves of Camellia sinensis, it wasn’t tea. And, to be fair, that’s strictly accurate. True tea only comes from this one shrub and any of the so-called teas that don’t contain it are more properly called tisanes. (See how I get!)

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I was a little leery, then, when a couple of our very best friends gifted us with a tin of “herbal tea” last year. They volunteer at the Enfield Shaker Museum where the gift shop sells blends of herbs from the gardens of the historic village. I put the tin on the shelf with the real tea and didn’t give it much thought until one chilly winter afternoon. I wanted something hot but thought it was a little late in the day for caffeine. I brewed a pot, poured a cup, and immediately changed my opinion of tisanes. It was delicious! Our supply was gone in  a few short weeks. I made a note of the ingredients and made sure they were included in the herb patch on this year’s garden plan. Some mints I was already growing but I bought another, labeled peppermint to make sure I had the right one. Lemon balm I had grown unrestrained before so I knew I had to keep it in a buried pot. Lemon verbena was a new one to me but we managed to find a plant at the nursery.

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All have grown well and I’ve made two harvests of their fragrant leaves. I dried and crushed the first batch and it made a nice little jar full but I’m stocking up with more to get me through the year.

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This whole adventure has loosened up my attitude about what I brew now. I’ve even started experimenting with adding dehydrated orange peel to my tea. Turns out it’s great with black tea, not so much with the whites. In any case, I know I’ve just scratched the surface of what I can grow for brewing tisanes and tea blends. Maybe this winter I’ll do some more reading and tasting and what I learn will be reflected in 2017’s herb bed. What do you brew? Please share any suggestions in the comments!

Garden Green

I visited the garden this morning to check that everything was OK before the heat wave hits. Not looking forward to that. It’s going to be “a real stinkroo” as my friend Martha puts it. In any case, I found lots of green.

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The next round of broccoli is coming along nestled in blue green leaves.

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Plenty of little green lanterns on the tomatillo plant. I see enchilada sauce and jars of salsa in our future.

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Many bell peppers. Big, green and solid!

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And look at all the Poblanos! I grew two this year because last year’s made such a poor showing. Now both are laden with their dark green fruit.

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And tomatoes! Green tomatoes! These are Amish Paste, I think.

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Lots of little, green cherry tomatoes, too.

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Even green striped tomatoes. Green on green…

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And this big green dude. Yup. Green. More green…

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Uh, huh. Yeah, we saw green Amish Paste already…

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Enough, already! I want a ripe tomato! Last year I was at least getting a hint of color weeks earlier. What gives? In 2014 I was picking cherry tomatoes on July 10.

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Ah! Finally. The lone tomato showing any color. It’s an Opalka, a paste variety and it has many, many green compatriots hanging on the vines. They’d better ripen soon. I’m getting a little tired of green. Open-mouthed smile