Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happiness is a warm cattle panel

The farmer who leases our alfalfa pays part of the bill with cash, and the other with trade.  Earlier this spring he delivered thirty bales of straw to my garden, and a few weeks ago he brought out ten cattle panels.  Actually, some of them were cattle panels, some were sheep, and some were hog panels.  In other words, some were five feet tall, some four, and others three.  Give or take a few inches.

Cattle panels are wonderfully versatile things.  They are sturdy enough to hold up to livestock abuse, hence their name, and are quick and easy to install as temporary or permanent fencing.  But I did not get these beauties for the goats.  Oh no, no, no.

These panels are strong indeed, yet they are also flexible enough that with a bit of determination, strength, and coordination they can be bent to suit various needs.  Right at the moment, my needs are garden-related.  More specifically, bean-related.

It's kinda hard to see in this picture, but in the center are our new pole bean supports.  Hubby took four of the cattle panels and bent them in half.  He then drove in a fence post slanty-wise into the soil and secured the panel to the post with steel wire. Each 16-foot-long panel make an 8-foot-tall double trellis.  It's a good thing I'm pretty tall myself, otherwise come August those upper beans would be pretty hard to reach.

Here's another panel, bent into a peaked archway entrance for the garden.  The boys and I planted scarlet runner beans at the base.  I can't wait to walk through it this summer, when it's covered with brilliant red blossoms.  (And then later in the year, when the bean pods are hanging down from the top and banging me in the forehead.)

So, next time you pass by a farm auction, stop by and let your imagination wander.  One farmer's scrap metal is another gardener's delight!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jim Henson's garden babies

Baby chard!

Baby lettuce!

Baby beets!

 Baby spinach!

Baby peas!

Baby radishes!

Baby shallots!

And teenager garlic.

Mo' hair

Friday, May 13, 2011

Foraging and Feasting

Foraging, you ask?  Why, yes!  Last Saturday Graham and I headed southeast to Moonstone Farm and the annual 'Grasp the Nettle' workshop.  Moonstone Farm is a lovely place, run by lovely farmers Audrey and Richard.  We had a group of about fifteen wild foodies hiking around the woods and streams learning about eating off the land, and afterward we all worked together to forage our own ingredients to prepare a spring greens feast.

I was assigned to Team Nettle.  Three of us cut enough nettle sprigs to feed a small army.

This picture shows only half of what we picked.  We washed and drained them three times to get out the grit.  After washing, we put the nettles in a crockpot with butter and olive oil to simmer down.  Cooking serves to nullify the sting of the plant.  After it's cooked, it tastes somewhat like spinach.

We also had some ramps to play with.  Aren't they pretty?  These were sliced, and some were added to my nettle dish and others added to a burdock stir fry.

Here is Team Burdock, cutting and washing and peeling burdock roots.  They probably had the hardest job of all of us.  You've got to dig a few feet down to get to the tender part of the root.

The root, ready for slicing.

Slicing and sauteing burdock in olive oil.

Here's Team Salad, cutting cattail roots.  At least the person on the right is cutting cattail roots.  I'm not exactly sure what the person on the left is slicing. 

Some of the nettles went into a large pot for a spezz-something soup.  (I forgot the name of it, but it's Italian and has eggs, cheese and sausage in it as well.)  We also were treated to some dandelion flower tempura, which was very yummy.  Graham helped pick the dandelion heads.

Audrey had some nettle pasta made for us already.

One person made a dandelion leaf pesto.

The sliced burdock was added to some garlic chives and Solomon seal in a tasty stir-fry.

My friend Rebecca was on Team Salad, mixing together violet leaves, cattail root and virginia waterleaf with violet flowers sprinkled on top.

My favorite dish of the day was definitely the soup, with the burdock stir-fry and wild greens salad tied for second.  The nettle pasta was pretty good, but the dandelion pesto was too spicy for my tastes.  The worst dish of the day--my sauteed nettles.  Other people liked them, but I didn't care for them at all.

Graham had a grand time as well.  He spent the day playing with a new friend, and I only had to talk him down from the porch roof twice.  Here he is trying to light a dandelion head on fire.  His favorite dish was the nettle pasta.

So, with the current crop of dandelions in my garden (and me not able to till or mulch them), plus the nettle in the goat pen (that the goats refuse to eat), and the bountiful amounts of burdock in my yard, I could feed my family for days on end.  And who knows, I just might try.  Foraging for wild food is much easier (and much tastier) than it seems.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My mother's kitchen

Today is Mother's Day. I slept late and was treated to a hearty breakfast in bed, brought upstairs by proud, beaming little boys.  Benjamin made the tea, Graham the toast and Owen the eggs.  Rain and thunder promised a few lazy hours spent reading a new novel.  After the rain stopped, hubby and I worked in the garden a bit, before the wind whipped us silly and another dark cloud passed overhead with more heavy drops.

After breakfast I called my mother to wish her a happy mothers day.  She and the rest of our family (my sisters and brother) were going out to lunch.  I felt guilty not being there, but we had just come back from a visit three days ago.  A slew of Canadian relatives had found cheapo flights and flown out mid-week, and we dropped everything to drive to the Cities to see them.

It was a grand visit, lots of talking and chatting and laughing, with games of tennis and ping pong to liven things up. Most of the time was spent in the kitchen, sitting and standing around the table, cooking or eating or playing cards.  That kitchen has served as the focal point, the heart of the house ever since I was a child.  My parents have on occasion talked about replacing cabinets, fixtures, brick siding, etc.  I express my outrage at each suggestion.  I almost rebelled when they replaced the linoleum floor with hardwood ten years ago.  Nobody messes with my memories.

And at the center of those kitchen memories is my mother.  Meals cooked, pots scrubbed, quilts sewed, coffee drank, books read, cigarettes smoked and card games played.  Every trivet on the wall, every goblet on the shelf, every tea bag in the crock are there because of her.  If a kitchen is the heart of the home, a mother is the heart of the family.

If you click on and zoom into the photo above, you can read the sampler hanging on the wall behind my mom. It says, 'A Good Mother Makes a Happy Home.'  I am fortunate enough to have been blessed with both.

Happy Mother's Day to you all.