Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stoned (And How to Move the Big Ones)

 Sam has discovered water below the waterfall.
       Hard, cold rocks. Soft, colorful petals and tender greenery. What a wonderful contrast, and one I love using in my landscaping. When we inherited the farm, the only landscaping here that included rocks was a rock garden in the back yard. Heirloom iris grew there among lots of weeds. The iris are still there, along with lilies and a variety of hosta, and the mums I planted there a few days ago. I downsized that garden shortly after we moved here, but now want to add a second rock garden near it, with a path between it and the old garden. I've located only about ten of the fifty large stones I figure I'll need.
       The water feature project we set up several years ago used up a huge number of stones. The hill pictured above is terraced, with rocks stabilizing the dirt. I didn't want to fiddle with a pond so there's a "dry" well under the creeping thyme at the left in the photo. That's filled with rocks, truckloads of them gathered from the fields around the house and along the road. 
Driveway in front of house.
Water feature is in background.
       After we added this porch in 2004, I built a retaining wall along the front. It was needed because the house sits at the top of a hill; the wall keeps dirt from washing down over the drive. Finding enough stones after finishing the water feature turned out to be a challenge. Since a huge black locust tree shades this spot, I planted more hosta here, along with hydrangea and bleeding heart. The hydrangea are survivors from some sticks I could barely identify as such when I found them many years ago. I believe my father-in-law must have planted them by the front door. My husband's family rarely used the front entrance, and the plants had been neglected. The porch addition changed that.
Stone path from lilacs to garden
with a large stone for a sundial.
       I started using small stones in landscaping the farm before we moved out from town. It was a case of using what was available, and after finishing the rather ambitious task of putting in a drain field, I  had a pile of stones left over. That pile disappeared into several projects. The first was a path from the lilac bushes in front to the vegetable garden. The big stone on the right was one my father-in-law had set out near the lilacs to hold a sundial. He bought the sundial but never set it up. The lilac bushes grew and shaded the stone.  I had it moved. I have the sundial. Someday I'll get the sundial onto that stone!
        You'll note that this large rock is set deeply into the ground.  If left on the surface, it would have looked like it just rolled off the truck. Buried, it looks like it belongs where it is.   
Stones at base of kitchen porch steps
      Leftover stones also went into a circular path around the flag pole in the front yard, a pathway from the side drive to the milk house, an edging around the rock garden in back so I could mow without hitting the larger rocks, as mulch around the water faucet in the back yard, and as mulch near the house's foundation.  Mixed with the drain field stones are ones I gathered during other projects around the yard.
       A few years ago, the farmer who rents our fields reseeded them. That meant he had to "harvest" the copious crop of rocks that have pushed to the surface since the last time the field was planted. He piled those rocks at the edge of the field and I moved them two year ago to the ditch by the road in front. I'd like to line the entire ditch with stones, but to do so I'll need four times what is there now. That's not going to happen any time soon.
       The same farmer offered to move some BIG rocks into the yard for me. That was this spring before the weather went nuts. He hasn't had time to act on that offer yet, but I sure hope it still stands next spring! As you might guess, I have ideas for the placement of several, the bigger the better.
       When I move large rocks without help, fifty pounds is as much as I'll try to lift and carry. Even then, I don't carry that much for more than a few feet. To "lift" a large half (or more) buried rock out of the ground, I lever it up, pack dirt under it, and lever it up again, repeatedly packing dirt under it until it's no longer buried. To move it, I tip a wheel barrel on its side as close as possible to the rock, roll the rock into the wheel barrel, and tip the wheel barrel upright. Using this method, I can relocate rocks weighing a hundred pounds or more without assistance.

Mum's the Word

        My red mum hedge is so bright and cheery that it inspired me to buy some of these plants. That's right, I haven't purchased any mums before. I "inherited" the red ones from my son. The other colors came from drawings at my spouse's class reunions. But I bought five plants the other day, and planted fifty.
       In the past I've divided my mums in the spring.  I don't know if fall division will work as well. I'm not even sure that "divided" is the correct term to use here, but I went ahead and "divided" (or whatever it's called), all in the spirit of experimentation. Left alone, mums will self-propagate vigorously. I've moved mine around so many times that they haven't had a chance to take over any one spot, but I'm hoping that will change in the near future. I love the masses of color mums produce! And they do so with so little care! 
Mums and salvia
       To propagate, I break off a stem, being careful to insure that some roots are starting at the base of the stem. In the spring there are no flowers, so I simply stick the soon-to-be-new-plant in the ground and water it. For these fall purchases, I snapped off all the flowers, leaving four or five inches of stem, before putting them in the ground. The one thing mums do need to grow well is plenty of sunshine. I nearly lost the red mums years ago before I figured this out.  
       I couldn't leave all those lovely blooms lying on the ground! I brought handfuls into the house and plopped them into a tub, considered, then added some blue perennial salvia for height and color contrast and took a photo.
       I placed a row of yellow mums alongside the feverfew that grows along the fence at the east end of my herb garden, with a few more yellow ones under the trumpet vine in the center of the herb garden.  White mums now edge the single reddish mum (from one of those reunion drawings) at the west end of that same garden. I'm looking forward to viewing these from my east-facing kitchen window next fall.
Feverfew.  Next year, with luck,
there'll be a row of yellow mums on the
other side of this fence,
       The entire almost-lavender mum plant now resides in the rock garden where lavender and calendula grow.  I'll want whites in the Moon Garden, but for now I've put starter plants in a nursery near the strawberry patch. The magenta mums are near the old quince tree outside the west-facing kitchen window, with the rust-colored ones not far away in a rock garden that's been in the back yard for well over a hundred years.
       While I'm delighted at the prospect of all these colors next fall, I don't want to wait that long for a colorful yard. I expect hundreds of daffodil blooms in the spring, but what about the summer? I'm going to have to think about that.
       If you want to grow mums in containers, keep in mind that the size of the plant depends on the size of the container.  An eight inch pot can give you a blooming plant two feet across.

Note. Few fall mum starter plants made it through the winter. Best to wait for spring.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Black Locust Trees Burn Me!

Black locust grove in the back yard.
       Black locust is a fast-growing tree, attaining a height of seventy feet or more with a diameter that can exceed a yard. Nothing excels black locust for longevity when used in contact with the ground.  Posts have been known to last a hundred years. It makes excellent firewood when cured, and will even burn when wet. When my husband's family ran out of firewood during the winter, they could cut down a black locust tree and use the wood immediately. The tree fixes nitrogen in the soil, and bees use the flowers to make a famous honey. Its leaves are so small that it's rarely necessary to rake them in the fall; the wind disperses them. Sounds like a perfect tree to grow in your yard. 
Black locust at the edge of a garden,
growing from a root runner.
        It's not. The young trees and new growth sport thorns.  Large limbs on older trees have a deserved reputation for becoming widow makers. The tree spreads by seed and roots. This makes it invasive. A newly cut stump will produce dozens of sprouts. While you're trimming back the new growth, new trees will be coming up dozens of yards away. Want to clear ground for a garden? If you have black locusts in the area, you may run into a latticework of roots that will have to be dug, chopped, pulled, burned. Whatever it takes to get them out, and you won't get them all. 
       I've tried all sorts of tricks to get rid of specific trees.  To control the black locust invasion in the barnyard, I'm using a strong herbicide.
The tall growth around the silo is black locust trees.
The barnyard is choked with younger trees in a broad line
from the silo all the way to the left side of this photo.
There's no way I could begin to control them with my usual shovel work.  Even bulldozing wouldn't stop them.  Actually, bulldozing is what brought about the mess in the photo on the right. The machine tore out the bigger trees, but new growth sprouted from every little piece of root left in the ground.
         My most successful ploy for getting rid of a single tree has been to cut it down and cover the stump with heavy black plastic (the leftover pool liner I've mentioned in other blogs).  It's unsightly and must be left in place for months, and I still need to cut away anything the grows outside the covered area, but the stump does actually die, eventually.
       Oddly, as invasive as the tree is, it hasn't spread onto neighboring property. We have our own little copse around our old farmhouse. What I suppose is the mother of them all stands in the front yard, with a trunk easily three feet in diameter.  Black locust isn't native to this area, but that tree was big when my husband's family moved here over sixty years ago. I think of it as part of the history of this old house.  Bees have a hive in another black locust tree down by the road in front. Last year I observed bees there getting ready to move, a swarm five feet wide with a solid, living basketball-sized mass in the center. Awesome. As much trouble as the species is, we haven't made an effort to get rid of it completely. It's too useful for posts and as firewood.  I have to admit that the yard would look naked without it.
       Since the original post, I've learned a few more things about black locust, including an additional way to get rid of it--bring in the goats. We haven't done this yet, but maybe, hopefully, someday.... And of course, now that I may have a workable way of erradicating new growth, I've found another use for it. Slim, long, flexible black locust twigs make outstanding withies for wattling. I'm imagining really cheap-to-make fences for privacy and less ambitious ones for keeping the dogs out of certain areas. I want to make tomato towers using them. Then I've seen black locust listed as a source of poultry forage. Gaia's Garden says the seed pods can be ground and fed to chickens. Live and learn! (Isn't it fun!)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Homemade Pasties Made With Homegrown Vegetables

       Food for the body as well as food for the mind: that's what one of the organizers of my basic Master Gardener class called for. The class was held once a week, for four hours. We were encouraged to help provide edibles to keep our strength up during the training. Many people came directly from work. There were lots of cookies and nibbles, but few people had the time to prepare much more, especially dishes with protein. I volunteered to provide pasties.  I was told by several people that they had eaten pasties before and not been impressed.  My recipe changed their attitude.  
Pasties fresh from the oven, in jellyroll pan.
       I met my spouse at Michigan Technological University, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where signs advertising pasties are a common sight.  My father-in-law, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law's spouse also attended Mich Tech so it's not surprising that my mother-in-law had a pasty recipe. This is basically her recipe, personalized by me.
       I don't recall ever actually seeing a written recipe.  It was more "cut up the five main ingredients, mix them, encase them in pie crust and bake."  That works for me; that's the way I cook a lot of dishes; but for this blog I measured and weighed those ingredients so I could give meaningful directions.  Before I start that, though, I'd like to point out that a pasty can be made from nearly any grade of beef or any variety of meat, or even with no meat.  I've used pork, chicken, turkey, and stew meat, or whatever's on sale or cheapest.  I suppose ground meat would work okay, though the idea doesn't appeal to me.  I've made vegetarian pasties with asparagus instead of animal protein.  Whatever meat you use, you'll be delighted with how moist and tasty a pasty is when made with fresh-from-the-garden vegetables. 
      When I make pasties, I generally make extra to freeze.  Oven-ready frozen pasties are the perfect answer to what's for dinner? when I don't have time or am too tired to fix a meal from scratch.  The amounts given here make three dinner-sized pasties, each with about one and a quarter cups of filling.  Size is another thing you can adjust to fit your own family's appetites.
Meat Pasties:   One cup (1/2 pound meat), cut into small pieces    
                       3/4 cup potato (5 oz), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
                       1/2 cup carrot ((7 oz), cut into smaller pieces
                       1/3 cup rutabaga (2 oz), cut into small pieces
                       1/3 cup onion (2 oz), cut into really small pieces
       You may laugh (or groan) at the "small pieces" but small helps the flavors meld and makes for much tastier pasties.
        In a bowl, mix everything well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add herbs if desired.  I don't add any to beef pasties, but sage with pork and garlic, parsley, and paprika, for example, are good with poultry.      
       Prepare pie crust.
Pie Crust:   In a bowl, mix 1/3 teaspoon salt with one cup all purpose flour.  Cut in 1/3 cup shortening.  Stir in about 1/3 cup cold water.  I like my dough a little on the sticky/soggy side.  Too little water makes for hard-to-work, dry crust.  If your dough seems too wet to handle, let it sit for a few minutes.  The flour will absorb the extra moisture.    
       Make a ball using a little less than 1/2 cup (about 4 oz) of dough.  Spread some flour on your work surface.  Flatten the ball a little in the flour.  Turn the dough over to repeat the process for the other side.  Sprinkle more flour if needed.  Roll the dough into an 8x12 oval.  Place 1/3 of the meat/veggie mix at the closer end of the oval.  Wet you fingers and run them over the dough around the mixture, except the back side.  This will help seal the dough.  Pull the far end of the oval toward you, over the filling.  With your other hand, gently roll the whole thing toward you to firm up the back of the pasty.  Trim the raw edges, leaving about an inch of both top and bottom crust.  Roll the edges toward the center, pressing the two layers of crust together to create a seal.
       Place the pasties on a lightly greased shallow pan.  If you use a cookie sheet, put the pasties on aluminum foil with the foil edges crimped up to catch escaping juices.  Bake at 425 for fifteen minutes. Reduce heat to 375 and bake for about 25 minutes more, or until inside of pasty reaches a temperature safe for the meat you're using.  (Yes, an instant food thermometer is really handy for this.)
       Serve hot, or cool, package and freeze.  If you plan to freeze, loosen the pasty in the pan while it's still warm.  If you wait until it's cool, you'll have a fight on your hands if juices have escaped.  If you package it before it's cool, it will fall apart as you work.  You can freeze the pasties raw if you haven't used frozen food in their preparation.  To reheat, use a conventional oven at 375 degrees for about forty minutes.  If you microwave, you'll get a soggy crust.
       Don't throw out extra pie crust.  If there's enough, you can line a pie pan for a single crust pie or a quiche, cover and refrigerate, but use within a day or two.  Or do what my grandma used to do: roll the crust out, cut into squares, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and bake at 425 for a few minutes on a cookie sheet.  We used to eat these as they came out of the oven; now I wonder how they'd taste with a dab of jam on the warm square.
       Now comes the question of whether or not to top your pasty with catsup.  To my mind, doing so is an insult to the cook.  A good pasty is moist and tasty enough without drowning it with another flavor.  I hear that long ago workers carried this meal to work and heated it on a shovel over a fire.  I doubt they used catsup.  But (sigh) most people insist on it now.  Some non-traditionalists even opt for gravy or cheese.  My husband says the members of his American Legion post almost lynched the cook who suggested cheese on pasties at one of their dinner meetings. 
        When my daughter was near delivery time for her last child, she was still living with her mother-in-law.  She didn't need me to come help with the kids; instead, she asked for a freezer full of pasties to ease the burden of preparing meals.  Even the then-two-year-old could eat this meal without help from Mom, and it was a food the children were familiar with and liked.
        I realize I've included some really basic methodology here.  My intent isn't to insult you if you're an accomplished cook, but to help those who fear working with pie crust. 
        Somehow it doesn't seem appropriate to wish bon appetit for a meal suited to heating on a shovel, but, well, bon appetit.      

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Getting Nettled

       Nettled? My dictionary says this means being irritated, or arousing a sharp but transitory anger.This works for me. I can't begin to count the number of times I've been innocently pulling weeds or harvesting veggies, and been attacked by this vicious plant.
        Okay, it's just a plant. Plants aren't vicious; they just are. But still....
        The stinging nettle grows everywhere on our farm, often to a height of six feet or more. For a time I was merciless about ripping it out and tossing it on the compost pile. Actually, this is an excellent place to toss it, as its high nitrogen content aides composting. But I've mended my ways. Stinging nettle is a genuinely useful plant to have around.

Dried nettle, no longer stinging.
       First of all, it's food.  When my kids were young and game about experimenting with wild edibles, I cooked up a potful, boiling it like spinach. Cooking destroys the stinging properties. The kids ate it so it must have been reasonably tasty. I suppose I tasted it too at the time, but the experience must not have made much of an impression on me. I can envision eating it now in a quiche. First growth in the spring, to about ten inches, is supposed to be best for human consumption. Can't you imagine pioneers watching for this after a hard winter, eager for the first greens since the previous fall?
       The entire plant is used to make a soft gray green dye.  It has cosmetic applications and is said to stimulate hair growth. The stems provide a flax-like fiber for making fabric. It's rich in iron and useful in low-salt diets.
       But the main reason I hesitate to get rid of all of it, is that dried nettle is an excellent winter addition to stock feed. Wearing gloves and a long-sleeved shirt, I've gathered several bushels of nettle leaves, dried them in our commercial-sized drier, and buzzed them into powder in my Vita Mix. It makes a very fine powder; so fine that I let it settle for several minutes before I very carefully decant it. Half a bushel grinds down to only two cups or so. Seems like a lot of work for little product to me too.
       If you plan to gather stinging nettles for any reason, keep in mind that bruised dock rubbed on the sting serves as an antidote. And if you don't already have enough of this wonderful plant on your property, you can order seeds and plants from Richters Herb and Vegetable Catalogue.  Really.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Children's Garden Update

West side of Children's Garden, July 2011
       The grandchildren haven't visited much this summer because their mother has been so busy with her own garden (http://adventuresofathriftymama/) but when they have come, they've spent time here.  We added the tire swing last year after Chris, that's our daughter, told us she's always wanted one.  She had never mentioned it before.  This is where the kids head now as soon as they go outside.  The littlest one likes the turtle sandbox.  When the oldest spent a few days with us during the dog days of summer, he had the slide positioned so that he could land with a splash in the pool.  None of them has taken a particular interest in the plants, but I'm hoping that will change as both the plants and the kids mature.  I've heard that Skyler already grows his own catnip stash.  I don't know if he's actually tasted catnip tea, which is a mild sedative for people, if not cats, and helpful for treating colds and fever.
West side of Children's Garden, late September, 2011.

       As with the Moon Garden, this project is awaiting completion of that darn pipeline to the barn.  I don't figure there's much point in planting anything on the east side of the garden until that's finished.  Meanwhile, this corner is filling in nicely.  Counterclockwise around the tree are lemon balm, day lilies, chives, parley, catnip, and violets.  I actually harvested and used some of the catnip and have dried enough to fill two quart jars.  The black post that appears to cut thought the slide is a maker for one of the red currant bushes I want to put in next spring.  There'll be one behind the tree and a third to its left.  I dug out existing soil and replaced it with an organically rich blend.  Sam helped with the digging.  While I was getting the replacement soil, he was actually in the hole, challenging his older adopted brother, Nightshade.  The post isn't to remind me where I intend to plant; it's to keep the dogs from digging in that lovely, rich soil.  The future currant site to the left of the tree is both dogs' favorite resting place when watching me work in the yard.
       I planted red creeping thyme in the background, just this side of the lilac bushes.  It's not doing well under the bench (behind the slide) where it gets too little sun, but among the lilacs it's doing fine.
       I'm still concerned that the black locust trees may be stunting the growth of some things I've planted.  Neither the nasturtiums or hostas are doing as well as I'd like.
       This corner of the garden has a daffodil border, which I've read is a barrier against grass.  I have grave doubts about that, but expect lots and lots of yellow blooms next spring, here and elsewhere in the yard.  I'd claim that I can't wait, but actually, I'm looking forward to some down time this winter!