Friday, June 29, 2012

What to do during a drought

Oh my, it’s dry outside. I’m in the part of the U.S. that has been experiencing a drought this month. Now the temperatures have soared to an unusual 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
What’s a gardener to do during this time? Planning ahead, as with so many things in life, is the most effective strategy. But if you didn’t get to carry out all of your plans as you had hoped, don’t despair. Here are a few strategies to try.

1) Next year plan to mulch more heavily. Mulching around a plant not only keeps down the weeds, it helps the soil retain water. I really wanted to try “lasagna” gardening this year, which would have helped enormously, but I didn’t collect enough cardboard to build the layers. I see what I must do this fall!
2) If you do get some good rainfall, go ahead and mulch now. For years I’ve used layers of newspaper. I prefer to put composting grass on top of them but lacking that I use dirt. Be forewarned, though, if you don’t put enough dirt and it gets dry and windy, the papers will blow away. I also use cardboard, which still needs to be weighted down.
3) Use a soaker hose (also called a drip line irrigation system) to water with. These run along the ground and are somewhat more effective than sprinklers. You can target the water precisely where you need for it to go.
4) Collect water from your indoor usage to use in the garden. I put a large bowl in the sink to catch the water when I rinse vegetables, wash my hands and rinse dishes. I keep my watering can and pitcher handy to dump the bowl water into when it gets full. A friend told me she puts a bucket in the shower with her to catch excess water.
5) Plan to use a rain barrel next year, if you don’t have one now, and be sure you set it up as early in the year as possible. Our rain barrel collects some water but it lacking all the parts to make it totally effective so it’s already empty.
6) If you have perennials that are newly planted this year, be sure to give them extra attention when watering. They will not be as well as established as your old garden buddies so keep welcoming them to the family.
7) If you have potted plants outside, put them in the shade for a portion of the day and they’ll need less water.
8) Prune plants so the water they do get can give you well-developed tomatoes and peaches, for example. We pruned some of our peaches in the spring but will do more this weekend.
9) Continue weeding. Some pesky weeds live longer than the vegetables, fruits and flowers that you truly want. Get rid of them so they don’t soak up the water your plants need!
10)  Enjoy your harvest as soon as you can pick it.I was thankful to go to the garden this morning to see the cabbage, kale, collards and rhubarb had actually grown and given me more to eat. I’ll be especially thankfully as I eat them this evening.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

New discoveries in the garden keep me learning

Jim and I were weeding the strawberry bed this spring when he plucked a stem of something that looked like clove and told me to try it. The fresh, lemony bite was so refreshing that I immediately wanted more. It was wood sorrel, something he and his siblings grew up eating when they were playing in the woods.

Wood sorrel is only one of my recent discoveries as I continue to learn about planting what I want and using what's already growing. The sorrel leaves are shaped like hearts and the plants in our yard make yellow flower. I've added to salads and enjoyed it as a snack when I'm working outside.

Next is purslane. I learned about this at the farmer's market last year where someone was selling it. And I had been pulling it out as a week all year! Its leaves are succulent and they have positive nutritional benefits.

This one I planted--Mountain Mint. It's a perennial and is supposedly good for keeping bugs away from people. When working in the garden, I pull off a few leaves and rub them over my skin. The mosquitoes aren't get thick enough to test the theory, but it certainly scents my skin nicely!
Below is a Scented Geranium plant. Rub its leaves and you get a scent similar to citronella. Again, this is for keeping bugs away. I planted two in pots, one for the porch and one for the vegetable garden. Although marked as an annual in most places, I'm told that you can bring it inside for the winter and it will be a perennial.

It's all an experiement in gardening and learning. I listen, observe, learn and share and love to find gardeners who do the same so feel free to share your lessons and experiments.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Gnocchi makes for great kid-friendly cooking

Two years ago or so my goddaughter and I made gnocchi together. She enjoyed it so much that she has repeatedly asked since then if we could make it again. On Sunday, we did just that.

Preparing gnocchi (an Italian potato dumpling) is a great experience for anyone who enjoys tactile cooking. The potato, egg, flour dough becomes silky as you knead then roll it into a rope. After that, you cut it into small pillows that you can “roll” with a fork or a honey dipper. Either of them shapes the pillows with subtle lines that help absorb whatever sort of sauce you decide to put on it.

Anna and I made what we called Italian Patriot’s Sauce with sautéed spinach, onion, red pepper and garlic. The colors of the Italian flag suggested its name. With that combination of fresh from the garden vegetables, you also get some nutrition to add to all of that butter and potato.

We used Michael Chiarello’s gnocchi recipe. Instead of using only egg yolks as the recipe calls for, I use 2-3 whole eggs.

After we mixed up the dough, we rolled it into ropes.

Next, Anna cut it into small pillows, then rolled it with the honey dipper.

While the gnocchi rested, we prepared the sauce by slowly sautéing our vegetables in butter.

After dropping the gnocchi into boiling water, we were only a few minutes from topping it with the sauce and eating.

We decided that the next time we need to make a double batch. One batch barely feeds four people who love gnocchi!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Garden with children, just watch the seeds

I spent one afternoon this week gardening with children—four- and five-year-olds. It was fun but I needed assistance with even three children at a time.

This summer we’re gardening at The Nest—Center for Women, Children & Families. When some of the children said that they knew where food came from then named a local store, the Child Care Director decided they needed to understand a little bit more. She brought in someone from a local orchard who made it fun to learn about fresh fruits. She also invited someone to cook green eggs and ham in celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. As a result, the children learned a little bit about chickens and eggs.

Now they have a garden to tend. Generous volunteers helped to eliminate the weeds from the small plot. They then covered the area with cardboard and put mulch on top of the cardboard. Part of the mulch, the part for planting, is a 50/50 soil mix.

So when the children and I began planting seeds, we had something wonderful to begin with—weed-free, loose soil. With donated seeds, we planted beans, peanuts, beets, okra and lettuce. Of course, I’m uncertain where some of the seeds actually went into the ground. Many of the little boys were quite excited to use a trowel to dig up dirt with which they could cover their just-planted seeds. As you can imagine, little boys don’t always remember where they planted their seeds so I have a feel they dug up seeds to cover some of the new seeds. Regardless, the seeds are somewhere in the ground. And the children are beginning to understand where food comes from.

Now we wait for rain and next week’s lesson in the garden.

To see photos of the planting, go to The Nest’s Facebook page.