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Category Archives: Nature

And The Winner Is …

… black cherry tomatoes.

Not only did they win me two ribbons at the county fair, they also are the highest producer in my rain soaked garden. I have harvested close to 25 pounds of these flavorful heirloom tomatoes from two plants. Plants purchased last spring from TLV Tree Farm at the Clarksville Farmers’ Market.

This is the second year they have taken second place in the heirloom tomato category. It’s the closest I have gotten to that elusive blue ribbon, and the $35 special premium attached to winning it.  I just can’t get my other heirlooms to ripen early enough to enter them in the fair. Next year will be even harder as the fair is a day earlier for entries, and I barely had adequate numbers of my other vegetables.

I did put in seven entries and came away with seven ribbons. Two firsts, three seconds, and two fourth place ribbons. My first place winners were my okra, and I had the largest tomato. Not very large, a green heirloom variety called Aunt Ruby’s Green German. It was a pound and a half. It’s crazy. I only got a half dozen of them from that plant, so it will not be bought again next year.

As for other notables from my garden, this is the year that the Italian cucurbita moschata, aka tromboncino took over my garden. It’s crawling everywhere and giving me 1-3 pound squash every time I go there.

This is the latest one. 2 Pounds, 14 ounces. There are seeds only in the bulb, so they are sweeter than other summer squash if you get them before they become too large. In past years, friends have found hiding ones that have weighed as much as 10 pounds. Those with darker green skins are treated like winter squash, peeled and used in soups or in muffins and breads.

I have been making and freezing trays of fritters. By themselves or paired with corn, or with sweet red peppers, we make a batch, have a few with dinner and then freeze them stacked on parchment. All winter long I can pull out a sheet or two and have fritters as a side dish with dinner.

Here is one of my earlier harvests of the squash.

And these are the other major producer this year. My okra. Drowning in okra. I had a market pack with ten plants in it. They looked quite pathetic when I planted them and I expected many of them to die. Nope, they didn’t. Out of ten tiny plants, seven survived and are now six feet tall and producing like mad. I have made many fries, have sautéed them, made a hash, and am running out of ideas. I do donate quite a bit of these to the food bank every Tuesday as we get dozen of them weekly.

Last but not least, the heirlooms.

Not a great year. Many cracked from the excessive rain. I did get quite a few of Rutgers tomatoes. Those are the red ones with the cracked tops. The green ones were those green German variety. The two on the bottom right were from my Amish CSA and not from the garden.

But these were still my favorite. At the height of summer, they were large and sweet.

I roasted these. Spread out on a tray. Rolled in olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and oregano. Low temperature for a few hours. Like candy.

The garden is winding down. Just okra, cherry tomatoes and lettuces. A big basil plant and sage. Almost time to do my winter pesto and maybe spread some Tuscan kale plants in the corner to see how they do.

This summer was awful for the gardeners. Far too much rain, excessive heat when it wasn’t raining, and bugs galore. Still, I love the challenge and I enjoy my harvests.

The Buck Stops Here

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Literally.

Six point?

Down by our old garden. Actually for a while he was in it.

There are also two young fawns with him on this visit. The next time we saw him he had two does, and four fawns following him around.

He isn’t shy either, as he came within four or five feet of our deck.

He has been here most days. Some days he comes all the way up past the house, but he mostly stays down in the meadow.

Many more deer around the property this summer. They have to be dislocated from all the road construction down on Rte 32, and they are venturing into the properties north and west of there. Major amounts of trees have come down, and the woods are shrinking.

For us, we have less hunters in the area, as the farms are disappearing and the tree stands taken down. We will reach a critical point again soon, as the fields become barren and the winter sets in.  We can tell when they are desperate. They start eating the pine trees.

Cabin Fever

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So, y’all tired of ice and snow, mostly ice, yet?

I am. Not loving the weather or the way it bothers my “aging” bones. Time to find some interesting things to do while waiting for spring to get here.

This is a two-fer week at the Howard County Conservancy. Thursday night a fascinating slide slow from Ned Tillman. Ned’s hikes and lectures all over the county are always well attended, and this week he is bringing new material about the world under the soil.

Saturday, a winter “hike”, but it will be an indoors Second Saturday program. Frog calls, and bird ID, in the warmth of the Gudelsky center where the wall of windows allows you to search for, and identify birds. Getting prepared to do the backyard bird count the following weekend. Which you could then do from the comfort of your own home.

Even in the snow.

If the weather does cooperate, you could also head out this Saturday to Mardi Gras on Main Street in Old Town Ellicott City. A family friendly Mardi Gras. With a scavenger hunt throughout old town, and the free Boogaloo at the Bin, with live music all afternoon and evening. There will be libations and food for sale. Gumbo, anyone? Maybe a beignet?

I did manage to get out last week and enjoy some of the wintertime activities around here. Even one of my favorite things. Cooking and eating locally. Over at Clarksville Caterers for a Slow Food chapter event with Chef Ryan Wiest.

Focusing on fresh winter vegetables, which the attendees peeled, cut, and roasted to go with short ribs made by the local chapter board members. I enjoy our quarterly events, featuring local foods and local people.

Anything else that would tempt you to brave the wintery winds and cold?

 

Coping With the Cold

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Cold weather is returning, after a nice couple of days. My little bird friends are hitting the water heavily.

In particular, my friend Flicker. Definitely here because of the heated bird bath. If you have feeders, make sure they stay filled, as the birds depend on you for food.

My bird bath isn’t pretty. But, it’s functional. I need the brick and rocks there to keep the insert from blowing away in high winds.

The blue birds are back, too.

They don’t use the feeders, only the water.

Other things I have paid attention to, as the temps dipped to single digits last week.

Letting the water drip at the most vulnerable place in the house. That bathroom where a pipe burst four years ago. We use the hall bath in the worst weather, just to keep the water flowing. Our master bath is protected. The hall bath is on the west side, where the winds blow and the walls are always cooler.

We also now keep the panel off the access to the crawl space, allowing warmer air to get in there. On the coldest days, I do laundry and run the dryer on high heat, raising the temps in that unheated crawl space full of pipes to the kitchen, laundry room and mud room bath.

We were told a long time ago, do not turn on a gas fireplace, or light a fire, while keeping the glass doors closed. They can shatter from the thermal shock. We have heard of many places where this has happened.

Also, do you know where your main water shut off valve is? Find it out. It makes a huge difference, if a pipe bursts, to be able to stop the water quickly.

We are weathering these cold temperatures so much better, since we took the time to beef up all our insulation. The house is warmer. We are happier for it.

We insulated the attic,

and all the dormers.

Last but not least, for me, the cook. I keep using the oven on slow cook, making soups, pasta meals, and stews, which are comfort foods.

 

Instant Summer

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Just add heat and humidity, along with all the pollen. This week is a scorcher. Out of nowhere we went from cool and rainy to hot and humid. I have been planting vegetables like crazy in my garden, and trying to keep up with the watering to help them acclimate.

Just a few really interesting views on what is happening.

Native coral honeysuckleLonicera sempervirens

It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Supposedly a rare native butterfly, whose name escapes me at the moment. This beautiful plant is in the children’s garden at the Howard County Conservancy community gardens. I am attempting to maintain and catalog what is there.

Including this.

Poppy family, maybe? I am learning more about flowers these days, while still maintaining my vegetable plot.

On the home front, the warm weather triggered the rhododendron.

There are two bushes in our yard. One, my favorite, the white one, doesn’t always display a large number of blooms. This year, yes, it has.

Anything new and exciting in your gardens this year?

Sure Signs of Spring

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When spring is truly here, in Central Maryland, there are those annual rituals in which I participate. You know the ones I mean. The annual visit to Brighton Dam to assess the azalea gardens.

The search for those first wild asparagus to forage. Or the first fat bundles at the newly opening farmer’s markets. Or, in my case these days, the first asparagus from my garden plot.

The dogwoods blooming everywhere you look. The progression of springtime blossoms here goes pretty much in this order. The forsythia, the daffodils, the tulips and the cherry blossoms, the azaleas, the dogwoods and the rhododendron. Mixed into these, it’s somewhat random that the other bushes and trees flower and then leaf out.

We are only a month away from the first strawberry picking.

Jenny’s Market should be opening next week. Then, I won’t have to drive far to get some fruit, particularly citrus which I always need for cooking.

Grilling season is about to commence in earnest. Not just the occasional good day to uncover the grill, but the long stretches of time when every night is perfect to eat al fresco. Not yet buggy season, or high humidity to interfere with the enjoyment of the outdoors.

I noticed this year. My asparagus came in three weeks earlier than last year. The azaleas are already peaking out at Brighton Dam. Weeks before they normally do.

The weeds are early, too. And prolific, due to our relatively mild winter. No long hard freezes that would kill them off. I will be battling the bittersweet much earlier, as it threatens to invade my flower beds.

Next week, my spring/summer CSA starts. The farmer’s markets aren’t far behind it. Can’t wait to visit the new one in Clarksville Commons or my favorite one down at the Wine Bin in Old Town EC.

This coming weekend is supposed to be lovely. Check out the azaleas if you get a chance.

Whither Winter?

To paraphrase the Elvis quote, “winter has left the building”, or has it? Rumor has it that we will get another Arctic Clipper blast a week from tomorrow. Hopefully, that won’t be the case, but it certainly doesn’t feel like winter anymore around here. I had the French doors open all day today, and it is T-shirt weather.

I seriously considered heading up to the community gardens and clearing up the asparagus beds. I almost took the tomato seedlings out of their warm spot in the laundry room and moved them out for fresh air.

I went back in my old photos to check out the four previous February files. I found quite a bit of bad weather this week.

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Two years ago, on the 22nd. Frantic birds chowing down on the hastily thrown seeds on the patio. It was too deep to get to the feeders.

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Last year, the day after Valentine’s Day.

Other years I also had the mad rush for fresh water from the cedar waxwings, and the pileated woodpecker working on a possible new home (or food source in my dying tree).

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pileated-woodpecker-010

I think the birds tell me when the seasons are changing. That means right now, since the juncos are still here, that winter has not left the building. Spring will be here when they leave and the hummingbirds show up.

Now, if only we don’t get weather that is too harsh, because the daffodils are coming up and the tulips are just popping through the soil. I hope the dogwoods and the cherry trees don’t suffer from too much cold. They look to be close to budding.

Climate variance. Around here, we measure things like bud break. Soil temperatures. The farmers can tell you all about weather and climate variance. They have large amounts of data tracking the weather. It’s the only way to know when to plant.