Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Have a Very Happy Thanksgiving!

This year is our most local Thanksgiving yet.  We have some ways to go before it's 100% local, but it's all about steps on a continuum, right?  Here's our menu:

Brined free-range turkey from Pennsylvania (Using Alton Brown's recipe)
Pan gravy
Homemade cornbread stuffing
Cranberry sauce (This is from a can.  I actually don't really like the homemade stuff!)
Maple roasted VA sweet potatoes (Basically using this recipe, but I'm considering topping it with the candied spiced AL pecans my parents are bringing up from here)
VA slow-braised collard greens (Using Tyler Florence' recipe.  Although, I used a few strips of local bacon instead of the ham hock)
Roasted cauliflower with pine nuts and raisins (Epicurious)
Green bean casserole (Made red-neck style with canned soup, froze beans & crunchy onions.  Oh, yeah!)
Gingerbread and local pumpkin mousse trifle (Epicurious)
Local apple crostata with cheddar crust (Martha Stewart's recipe)

And, to wash it all down, we're having unfiltered hard cider.  Not totally local, but closer than wine from France or South Africa!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

File This Under Things I Don't Understand: National Arboretum to Cut Down Azaleas

As reported by WashingtonGardener magazine:

If you've never been, take my word for it that the azalea collection is stunning in bloom.  Stunning.  And, honestly, seeing car loads of people flocking to the National Arboretum is a rare thing (I've been there almost every Saturday for a year taking classes.  The parking lots are rarely full.).  Plus, in this day & age how many people do you know that take precious weekend time to go out and look at plants?  I've seen kids there romping around, excitingly calling out the different colors as well as more elderly folks searching for their favorite.

Consider contacting the people listed at the bottom of the article to save the azaleas.  The collection really is a national treasure!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: Edible Landsaping

Wow.  Just wow.  I think Rosalind Creasy might just be my idol in the way that Taylor Swift is to 12-year olds.

By my estimation, Edible Landscaping might just be the perfect vegetable garden book.  Not only does it go into the basic mechanics of edible gardens-- light, soil, nutrients, required growing conditions for plants, etc.-- but it also goes into the complex (and fun!) world of garden design.  With case studies on how real home owners planned their gardens (one is from Arlington, too!), descriptions of basic design principles to keep in mind and lots of gorgeous pictures for inspiration, this book really takes you from A-to-Z. 

Now, you maybe thinking: "Um, I have a vegetable garden, not an edible landscape."  And, to that I say: "Why do vegetable gardens have to be ugly?" Incorporating flowers to attract pollinators and beneficial insects is not only pretty, but practical.  And, putting a little extra thought into the arrangement of your planting (like, maybe instead of rows of lettuce,  maybe a checkerboard pattern), you can get some lovely results.

Furthermore, why does food have to be limited to the *vegetable* garden?  In Arlington with our tiny lots, sometimes your front yard is what is blessed with sun.  I have been working to make my front yard more productive already, but Edible Landscapes has given that new energy.  I had been thinking about maybe a Wisteria frutescens to grow by my door, but now I'm leaning towards a grape vine.  How amazing would that be?!  We'd have grapes (either eating ones or ones to make juice/jam) and grape leaves!  In the winter, the gnarled bark of the grape vines is striking too and perfectly front yard appropriate.  I'm also going to tuck in some anise hyssop (an herb) into my cottage-garden style front plantings.  She's also got some lovely ideas on how to use groups of pots to grow food which I think I'm going to try to incorporate in our vegetable garden area (which is being finished today!). 

She's also written books specifically on edible flower gardening and edible herb gardening that go into more detail on those topics.  I can't wait to get my grubby little hands on those.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Herb Garden Defeats Lawn

Awhile ago I attended a lecture by the guy that wrote Edible Estates.  He gave a short lesson in landscape design history and this I found interesting: The Great American Lawn really comes from the Great English Estate.  Originally, if you had a sprawling lawn, then it was a show of wealth because clearly you were so rich you didn't need your land to be productive *and* clearly you employed someone to keep it trimmed.

 Now, strictly speaking I am not anti-lawn if they are maintained in a responsible way (e.g., not ODing on fertilizer, not heavily watered during drought, etc.). But, for my little barely tenth-of-an-acre lot, every square inch needs to have a purpose.  That purpose could be growing food, providing a nice place to sit, growing flowers that brighten my day or fostering wildlife.  When a portion of our front yard failed to do any of the above & actually refused to grow grass, something had to be done.  Thus, we turned one-third of our front yard into an herb garden and shade garden.

I foolishly forgot to take photos of the before, but just imagine a mowed mess of weeds.  The soil is heavy clay there and insanely compacted even before the construction we had done this spring.  To say growing grass there was an uphill battle is an understatement.  And, really, I didn't see the need to fight that uphill battle when the front half of the yard gets an amazing amount of sunlight...a rare commodity at my house.

Basically, I got a bunch of newspapers off Freecycle (free) and a truck load of mulch from my county ($50).  Just lay down a thick layer of newsprint and cover with a generous amount (at least 3 in) of mulch and Voila!  Instant lawn-be-gone.  For the herb garden, I got some pavers ($1.77 each) and some compost (about $8) and garden soil (another $8 or so).  To be honest, I may try to squeeze in another circle somewhere.  The beauty of this whole set up is that it's completely, and easily, changable.

Right now (which isn't shown in these pictures...) I have planted my sage in the center of the largest circle.  I'm probably going to plant garlic around half of it (if I get around to doing that this year...) and borage for the other half.  In the medium circle there is my woody herbs: Rosemary, thyme (2 kinds), marjoram and oregano.  And, finally, in the smallest circle that gets the most shade there is mint buried in containers.

I'm also going to add a lot of shade plants between the fence and the path to the side yard as well as a few between the fence and the herb circles...probably in spring or so.  I'm looking forward to spending the winter scheming about this!!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

So This Is Weird: A Garlic Mystery

Long time no type, eh?  A new term at school as started up and that coupled with some projects we're doing around the house and out-of-town guests meant no posting.

Thus, I come back after an almost 2 week hiatus with a mystery.  Hopefully someone on the internets can tell me what is up with this:
Obviously, this is garlic.  However, less obviously is that this garlic came from a place planted *last fall.*  Today I was doing the final clearing in the garden (that is another post, alas) and I noticed a square foot of leafy shoots come out of the ground where I harvested garlic in the spring.  I pull them up and it's garlic in various stages of maturation.  Some are starting to form heads (see bottom right corner of photo above) and others are just kind of starting out.

I'm pretty sure I harvested all the garlic out of that patch.  And, even if I didn't, it would have just been a clove or two and this was seriously an entire square full of growth.

Tell me oh wise readers: What is going on here?