Closing Summer

It is the end of an unusually quiet summer here at NHG.  A late, hard frost wiped out much of the spring plantings as well as this year’s harvest of blueberries and asparagus.  The figs and asparagus were late and modest.  Only the herbs were undaunted by the hard freezes and have flourished their second year in their permanent bed.  They have flowered and dropped seed which I hope will refresh the herb bed regularly by being able to remove the mother plants every year and allowing the next generation to take a turn.

So today I began closing summer, deadheading the spent flowers and trimming back the herbs for drying.

I also began the opening of fall today.  Planting beds with radishes, spinach and cilantro then lightly recovering the seeds with the pine needle mulch that is a naturally occurring phenomena in my garden.

Here’s to a fruitful autumn!

Posted in Daikon Radishes, Drying, Food Preservation, Herbs, Organic, Permaculture, Raised Bed Gardening, Spinach, Sustainable | Leave a comment

Permaculture Summer

To create your own permaculture summer:

  1. Start with a good variety of fruits, berries and herbs that pretty much take care of themselves year after year.
  2. Add to that background of growth, some tender green leaves (lettuce and spinach will do nicely) and one hungry rabbit.
  3. Voila!  You are back to your permaculture staple of fruits, berries and herbs with no pesky greens to worry about.

This, in a nutshell, is my summer.

The herbs bolted and are setting seed now.  The strawberries are producing well but I haven’t covered the bed so the birds are beating me to many of the berries.

The tower of asparagus is holding up very nicely under the accumulating mass of growth and the asparagus themselves are inexplicably sending up sporadic spears (3 in the pic below).The figs are plentiful and beginning to ripen.  The birds also beat me to the first fig of the year but they don’t seem to have seen the one on the other side yet.

The blackberries are ripening by the handful daily and the blueberries are plentiful, but stubbornly green.

The rabbit problem appears to be solved so now I am just patiently waiting for August when I can plant more greens for fall.

Posted in Asparagus, Backyard Gardening, Blackberries, Blueberries, Chives, Container Gardening, Figs, Herbs, Lettuce, Oregano, Parsley, Permaculture, Raised Bed Gardening, Spinach, Square Foot Gardening, Strawberries, Sustainable, Thyme, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Summer Already

After an early, false spring in February that fooled blueberries and peaches into blooming followed by the rest of a perfectly normal winter that felt like it lasted forever, spring finally did come and then go in a flash and we are now fully into summer in Zone 7b.

My asparagus harvest was light this year, which I attribute to the early burst in February, with many spears freezing at the end of the false spring.  I don’t know if the freeze affected the crowns or if it was just a coincidence.  An interesting side note, for each of the last two years I have had a second burst of spears in fall when nighttime temps dip into the 40s.  It will be interesting to see if I do and how much it produces this year.

In the meantime, each of the crowns has a few spears that have been allowed to grow tall and fern-like.  Every summer I try something a little different to contain all this greenery that feeds the crown for next year’s harvest and each year the greenery either slowly or not so slowly overtakes my supports.  I think I may have won this year with this 4 pole support, similar to what I have used for snap peas on a larger scale.  Currently the asparagus are around 5 1/2 feet tall and being easily supported.

AsparagusThe herbs that overwintered are in full flower, some so prodigiously that I trimmed them back to allow everyone a little sun and space.

Herb GardenWhile I wait for the blackberries and blue berries to ripen, my favorite summer treat this year is free-stone peaches halved and grilled for 4 minutes per side.  They are a perfect addition anything you are serving up!

Posted in Asparagus, Backyard Gardening, Blackberries, Blackberry, Blueberries, Herbs, Lettuce, Peaches, Permaculture, Sustainable, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Laissez-faire Farming

The threat of winter weather pushed right up to the last frost date for my area this year.  Add in my hectic schedule the past few weeks and the result is a late start on my spring garden, and some corners looking to be cut.

These colorful lettuce varieties would normally be carefully planned and planted in their own distinct areas.

This year I am deploying what I am calling a laissez-faire farming method of “mixed lettuces” saving a lot of time and proving that even lackadaisical farming sounds better in french.

Seeding and watering these 9 square feet (around 100 plants) was the work of 5 minutes.

I have to give a quick shout out to the oregano photo bombing the picture above (bottom and right of garden bed).  This now feral oregano self seeded the area around it two years ago when I had the herb planted in this box.  It is so thick and lovely year round that I am tempted to use it as a ground cover along paths.

For the rest of my garden, this year I am doing a lot more grouping than normal, with all of a bed planted with spinach or radishes or edamame, allowing me to broadcast seeds and get everything started a little faster.

Au revoir!

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Lettuce, Oregano, Organic, Pro Tip, Raised Bed Gardening, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable, Thrift | Leave a comment

Spring Again (Maybe)

The average last frost date for this area passed on April 4th but it has been an unusual spring with early season warming trends in February that encouraged strawberries and blueberries to bloom early followed by unsurprising freezes in early March that played havoc with the plants.

My strawberry blooms mostly survived the hard freezes in March and these June Bearers are already showing off green fruits.

The permaculture herb garden did very well over the winter, only dill and tarragon did not survive.  The thyme is already blooming and the sage is just a step behind.

Several asparagus spears were harvested in February then several more killed by one of the hard freezes, but they are loving the current weather and I am harvesting 5-7 spears every 2 days right now.

I lost some blueberry blooms with the freezes, but they also seem to have rebounded more or less with new blooms coming in, though I anticipate a diminished harvest this year over last.

Spring seems to be here to stay at last so it is time to start planting some annuals too!

Posted in Asparagus, Backyard Gardening, Herbs, Oregano, Parsley, Permaculture, Raised Bed Gardening, Sage, Strawberries, Sustainable | Leave a comment

Seeking A Lorax

…for the bees

This headline “First U.S. Bumblebee Officially Listed as Endangered” in a National Geographic article last week says it all.

This is the first US bumblebee, but not the first US bee.  Seven species of Hawaiian bees were declared protected under the Endangered Species Act last year.

I happened to see this one buzzing through my blueberry bushes today and couldn’t resist a sentimental (albeit slighty grainy) pic in light of the news.

Posted in Bees, Conservation, Endangered | Leave a comment

Lessons for the New Year

One of my goals for the coming months is to find lessons for skills I want to either learn or improve upon.  I had a head start a few weeks ago with a class offering by Whisk, a unique, local kitchen-everything shop in Cary (more about them in a bit).

The class was Mastering Knife Skills, a two hour, hands on lesson taught by Ethan Hamme from the Messermeister company who was both knowledgeable and entertaining.  The photos that follow are from another class Ethan taught and were generously provided by Whisk for my use here.

Ethan teaching how to hone a knife

One of my biggest take aways of the night was at the beginning of class when Ethan shared his thoughts on honing.  You either get into the habit of doing it before you use the knife each time or you get into the habit of doing it after.  He thinks it is easier to do it before, making it a step in the mise en place and therefore more likely to be remembered.

Cleaning Peppers for Julienne

The class was focused in particular on the chefs knife and its uses.  We first learned proper grip and then dove right into different techniques for different vegetables.

Ethan Slicing Garlic

I am sure I could have found my way through my first julienne watching a YouTube video, but now I have actually done it.  We then cut the julienne down to a fine dice called brunoise.

Brunoise Dice

An interesting component of the class was the assortment of chefs knives on the table.  This afforded students the rare opportunity of taking different knives out for a test drive throughout the class and see what felt good in their hand.  At the end of class I had to wait in line behind other students to check out with my two new chef/paring knives sets, so it looks like a win-win for students and store.

Whisk was just opening its doors in Cary when I moved to the area a little over three years ago.  By luck, I briefly met Dan, one half of the husband and wife owners, when we both spoke at the same event so I have known about and visited their site many times and knew they held regular classes.  I had even looked at the class listings a year or so ago and thought, “I will have to do that sometime”.  And then a year went by.

Let’s all make 2017 be our “sometime”!

Posted in Food Preparation, Home Economics, Kaizen, Kitchen Implements, Knife Skills, Resources, Slow Food, Sustainable, Whisk | 1 Comment

Peeking at Presents

It is the day after Christmas and I wanted to peek at a couple of presents, patiently waiting their turn in the garden.

We have had a few light freezes in the Raleigh area and at least one hard freeze so far this winter so the parsnips and carrots should be busily converting the starches into sugars making them sweet and delicious.

I pulled up a couple of volunteers to roast along with the leftovers for tonight’s meal and am pleased with the weight they have put on in the past 2 months.  Taste Test to come!

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Carrots, Heirloom Varieties, Parsnips, Raised Bed Gardening, Seasonal Eating, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable, Urban Farming, Victory Garden | Leave a comment

Kale Chips – Sometimes a Matter of Necessity

The Scarlet Kale in my counter top hydroponic system has been growing by leaps and bounds to the point that they are overshadowing the slower paced cilantro and parsley starts.

I needed to trim some leaves to let more light down to the smaller plants in the middle and a great excuse for kale chips.

I use my hands to toss the rough chopped leaves with a little olive oil then sprinkle with salt (cayenne or any other spice you would like to add) and toss again.

Cook at 350 on a parchment lined pan for until crispy and paper like, apx 10 minutes.

I like to let mine cool on a rack for good air circulation and while I haven’t done side by side experiments, I think it keeps them crispier.

Posted in Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Herbs, Hydroponics, Indoor growing, Kale, Kitchen Implements, Sustainable, Technology, Thinning | Leave a comment

Autumn Recess

Autumn has arrived in North Carolina, bringing with it the final harvest of bell peppers, roma tomatoes and serrano peppers.

Mid November HarvestThe herb garden has brushed off the first few light freezes and stands ready to make meals fragrant and savory for months to come.  I am confident that the thyme, oregano and sage will over winter well and hope that the french tarragon and parsley will also.

Herbs Before WinterParsley is such a staple of fall and winter dishes that I have more growing on my deck.  I have been poaching from the deck parsley for a few weeks thinking that it would not handle the frosts as well, but so far it is also doing wonderfully.

Container ParsleyIn previous years I have repeatedly removed pine needles from the garden beds only to replace it with a different mulch.  This year I have come to my senses and am embracing the pine trees taking care of mulching for me.

Collards in Natural Pine Needle MulchCollards, carrots, cabbage and parsnips are tucked into their naturally (and effortlessly) mulched beds.

Naturally Mulched Garden BedsThe fall planting of sugar snap peas has been supplying tender pea shoots and now has peas forming as well.

Fall Sugar Snap PeasThe hydroponic herbs were changed over 10 days ago to the varieties I know and love to cook with and are already doing quite well.  I am growing 2 plantings each of my favorite basils and cilantros, 3 of the flat leaf parsley and just for fun I am trying to grow 2 red kales hydroponically.

Hydroponic Herbs and KaleWith the Super Bowl and attendant tomato starts almost 2 months away, this cozy, fall garden that is mostly taking care of itself feels like a recess.

Posted in AeroGarden, Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Basil, Bell Peppers, Carrots, Cilantro, Collards, French Tarragon, Herbs, Hydroponics, Indoor growing, Inventions, Kale, Kitchen Implements, Mulch, Non-GMO, Oregano, Organic, Parsley, Parsnips, Peppers, Pine Needles, Raised Bed Gardening, Roma Tomato, Sage, Seasonal Eating, Serrano Peppers, Square Foot Gardening, Sugar Snap Peas, Sustainable, Technology, Thyme, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Aero Garden Update – Day 46

Hydroponic BasilDay 46 of the prepackaged herb pack that came with my AeroBount and I have excellent basil growth, both genovese and thai.  The mint was just starting to grow and the cilantro, parsley and chives never really took off.  The genovese basil, while in the same family, is not the basil I usually grow.  I do not know if it is a function of the variety or of the hydroponics but it bruises extremely easy and blackens quickly on warm dishes.

My Baker Creek order came in last week with seeds for my hydroponic herbs and  counter top microgreens so I decided to ditch the prepackaged herbs and start my own this weekend.

Fillable Aero PodsMy aero garden has space for 9 pods so I planted 2 of each except for the parsley that I planted 3 pods of because fall stews + parsley = YUM!

Posted in AeroGarden, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Basil, Cilantro, Heirloom Varieties, Hydroponics, Inventions, Kale, Kitchen Implements, Non-GMO, Organic, Parsley, Sustainable, Technology, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Living Ingredients

Although I have grown herbs indoors for each of the last 5 winters, my indoor garden has always been in a designated growing area and not particularly convenient to the kitchen.  So in a kitchen that is already small on space, I gave over fully 1/2 of my breakfast bar to try the AeroGarden, because the idea of growing fresh, green herbs right where I cook this winter is very appealing.

AeroGarden and Microgreens That probably also explains the microgreens taking up the other 1/2 of my breakfast bar now.

MicrogreensMicrogreens are a great choice for indoor veggies in the off seasons since they aren’t usually around long enough for pests or disease to become a problem and can be used in a variety of dishes.  They do need a little more attention in terms of keeping them moist and harvesting on time, but that is all the easier when they are located in the heart of a home.

My breakfast bar has become a living pantry 🙂

Posted in AeroGarden, Herbs, Hydroponics, Indoor growing, Kitchen Implements, Meal Planning, Microgreens, Non-GMO, Organic, Sustainable | Leave a comment

AeroGarden – Day 18

A quick update on the AeroGarden:

Touch Screen on AeroGardenDay 18, I topped off the water a couple of days ago when it was time to the second application of nutrients.

Day 18 of AeroGardenThe basils are doing great and the mint is beginning to peek out…otherwise, not much happening in the other 5 starter sponges.  I have some replacement starter sponges I purchased with the garden as well as some fresh herb seeds on their way from Baker Creek.  I think a replant with new seed will get the empty spots going.

Posted in AeroGarden, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Basil, Herbs, Hydroponics | Leave a comment

Cooking Up A Hurricane – Mozzarella (Part 2)

As a cook (and human being) I am much more comfortable in the zone where I am critiquing past performance and looking for areas for improvement over standing on the precipice of something I have never tried.  To that end, one of my favorite phrases is the French culinary phrase ‘mise en place”, which means “putting in place” and is a practice used in recipes that benefit from having all the ingredients measured and prepared before beginning.

For my first ever adventure into home cheese making, mise en place was required…and possibly wine…

Mozzarella Mise En PlaceSoft-cheese making is pretty straight forward (for the practiced) but with some specific temperatures serving as prompts to move to the next phase.  Since this was my first go at it, that translated into me constantly monitoring temps so as not to pass or miss an important temperature window.

Forming CurdsWith the first attempt at anything there are questions…are my curds curdy enough?  Is the mesh in my strainer too large (or too small) that I have curds filling the holes?

Curds and WheyBut then magic!  I made cheese!!

Taste Test of MozzarellaIn the end, like any new recipe, it went mostly well with a decent and edible result.  Then I begin the process of #Kaizen – constant, incremental improvement:

  • The cheese was a little firmer than most of the purchased mozzarellas I am familiar with – did I over work the curd?
  • The cheese was good, but a little on the salty side – I need to cut the salt in 1/2 for the next attempt.
  • My mozzarella was a little more yellow than the milky white mozzarellas I buy – is that related to the milk I purchased, something I did…I need to spend some time on google…

My favorite recipes rarely began as they are today and I am happy to add cheese-making to the list that is being constantly improved and refined until it reaches the point of second nature.

Posted in Cheese Making, Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Kaizen, Mozzarella, Organic, Recipe, Resources, Slow Food, Sustainable | Leave a comment

Cooking Up A Hurricane – Applesauce (Part 1)

Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the Carolinas this morning, just north of Charleston, SC, and more than 5″ of rainfall is expected for the Raleigh region over the next 24 hours.  With the cool, windy and very wet weather keeping most of the Mid-Atlantic seaboard indoors until late Sunday it was time to get cooking.

Ginger Gold ApplesAs part of this week’s CSA delivery from The Produce Box I special ordered 15 lbs of slightly blemished Ginger Gold Apples from a local farmer to make applesauce in my pressure cooker.

Prepping ApplesApples were peeled (not guaranteed organic), cored and cut into 16ths.  Some very small bruises were present and easily cut out.

The Makings of ApplesauceThe apple chunks and spices were placed in the pressure cooker – I used Flo Lum’s recipe with two variations, I added a bit of freshly ground nutmeg and cut my apple chunks a bit smaller for a smoother texture.

ApplesauceThe end result was a delicious treat that will not last long enough to worry about freezing.

I know apples are traditionally paired with pork, but try pairing them with homemade cheese quesadillas, especially for the under 10 yo set!

Posted in Apples, Community Supported Agriculture, Food Preparation, Kitchen Implements, Local Farms, NC 10% Campaign, Pressure Cooker, Sustainable, Technology | Leave a comment