Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Believe

The Daily Record was nice enough to let me go on at some length about Long Valley Green Market, a marvelous, exhausting experiment that just wrapped up its first season. Time for a long winter's nap to regroup before starting up again in the spring!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Home Fires Burning

I've been neglecting this space for too long. Now there's something of a lull in my work and the green market is winding down for the season. That leaves more time for wintry activities like baking garlic-rosemary potato bread and stoking the home fires, which desperately need some attention. Seed catalogs are already appearing in the mailbox; it seems like they come earlier every year. Mark is already taking furious notes for next year's garden.

Our goals for 2012 are to devote some energy to the aesthetics of our garden, especially as we put in more islands of perennials. Last year saw we firmly established asparagus, rhubarb, and blackberries in the big garden; this year we'll be installing blueberries and stone paths. The soil is already being acidified with pine needles so the blueberries will have an easy transition to their new home. We'll also be planting more vegetables with food preservation in mind, now that we're set up with a pressure canner and dehydrator. What a treat it is to eat jam and salsa and pickled peppers in December made from produce we grew or picked ourselves and were able to save for later.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Stinking Rose

Hard to believe it's garlic time already. Wasn't it just summer, like, last week? But no, we have to accept that we're deep into October and it's time to start planning for next year. We have the good fortune to call Roman from Valley Fall Farm in Johnsonburg our bee mentor and source for obscure and interesting varieties of garlic and shallots. Allium hipsters! Did you even know we existed? Because, for the record, we grew French Gray shallots way before they were cool.

Roman gave an enlightening (and delicious) talk at a recent Transition Newton event on the health benefits of honey and garlic. But you know what? We mostly think they're tasty--really tasty--which is why we're cultivating both in as large quantities as possible. Every year it seems like we're planting a ton of garlic, but when harvest time rolls around in July it seems like such a pittance. Which is why we're tripling next year's crop. We've got German White, German Hardy, Georgian Fire, and Mark's inevitable favorite, Korean Mad Dog Red--about 175 cloves all told. Along with 75 shallots. Didn't somebody say it was time for a break after the insanity of late-summer harvesting and putting up? Apparently not yet.

What are we doing differently this time? The weeds got the better of us this year, so we're putting down black plastic for a weed barrier. We're also mounding the beds, putting in irrigation and composting the heck out of the soil (Roman grows his garlic in what he calls "black muck"). Instead of growing shallots from seed in the spring, we're planting whole shallots in the fall, the same as garlic, which means they can get an early start putting their energy into forming bulbs that will split into more bulbs next year, resulting in bigger shallots and more of them.

Stinking roses indeed. Give me a bunch of garlic over a bunch of roses any day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Them Apples

We have four huge, ancient apple trees on our property. When we bought this place it was advertised as an "orchard," which is a bit of a stretch, but they certainly add character to our little estate. Last year we were so overwhelmed with establishing our garden that we didn't have time to even think about harvesting apples. The trees are so big that the fruits are all out of reach, and the few we found on the ground were already rotten or eaten through by insects. We wrote the apple trees off as bucolic ambiance and left it at that.

While cleaning out the shed this spring, we found this tool amidst the junk the former owner left behind. It took us a while to figure out that it's used for picking fruit from high branches. In the past week those apples started looking so ripe and tempting, so Mark dragged out the ladder and the apple-picking tool so we could try some. Talk about a smart move. The apples are good sized, firm, crisp, and sweet--such a lovely surprise! Yes, there are some bug holes bored into some of them, but considering they're a completely organic, foraged treat, we're very impressed. So impressed that we picked 15 pounds today and are trying to figure out a way to reach the rest.

Now what to do with all of them?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Long Valley Green Market

Did y'all hear about this little venture I'm launching tomorrow? It's called Long Valley Green Market. I'm really excited and proud to have put it together. Now I just really, really hope it's a success. Right now I have that feeling I get after I step into a roller coaster and the bar comes down to tuck me in. Here we go--wheee!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I have simply ordered a box of maniacs

So we got some bees and I want to write about it so badly, but I've been up to my ears in this little farmers' market I'm launching as well as keeping up with all the good stuff coming out of the garden, so to tide you over here's a snippet from one of Sylvia Plath's bee poems, "The Wintering."

This is the easy time, there is nothing doing.
I have whirled the midwife's extractor,
I have my honey,
Six jars of it,
Six cat's eyes in the wine cellar

Grazie mille to S. for urging me to read these again. They're so funny and scary and painfully prescient.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Still Life Raspberries with Dumpster

We've had a bit of a lull in the garden for the past couple of weeks--the spring things are done, but the summer crops aren't quite ready yet. That's allowed us to broaden our field of vision and see what's going on outside the garden.

KATE: I kept busy by making blueberry jam from the wonderful Blue Chair Jam Cookbook recipe, which adds a splash of balsamic vinegar and a cinnamon stick, and I'm happy to say that together they add a warm and complicated depth to the blueberries.

Here's a question. Did I use native berries foraged from a secret local blueberry patch, or trek down to the Pine Barrens to find an organic blueberry farmer and ransack his farm? I did not. Instead, I noticed with great delight when I opened the Shoprite circular last Friday that it was the one special week of the year when flats of commercial blueberries are on sale for an insanely cheap price. Reader, I bought them. Two, in fact. They may have been from New Jersey, but probably not. They were definitely produced using pesticides. And this is nothing to be ashamed of.

Sometimes I'm afraid I've gone so far down the garden path (har har) that I'm losing sight of why people started putting up food in the first place. Thrift is a virtue, as is eating ethically and re-learning skills like canning and gardening that are at risk of dying out when our grandparents are gone. Foraging at the supermarket is not the same as filling a basket with berries at the state park like I did as a child, but it's also not reprehensible. Sure, I'm voting for those commercial blueberries with a few of my food dollars, but I'm also saving money and storing my family's food for the winter. I keep telling myself that Shoprite is not the enemy. It's just not first on my list of food sources.

MARK: For most people, the grocery store is the first place to look for food, and a parking lot in an office park would probably be toward the bottom of the list. While the asphalt jungle may not be a primary source of food for us, I always have my eyes open--probably because it's impossible for me to get out of gardening mode--and sometimes I'm rewarded.

I like to briefly escape my corporate crypt once or twice a day just to remind myself the outside world still exists. Despite its location within spitting distance of Route 80 and the sisyphean efforts of the landscapers, some natural life persists. I like to keep tabs on the stupid little bird that built her "nest" (it's like 3 sticks) on one of the rocky medians smack in the middle of the parking lot. She yells at me as I approach, squawking to distract me from the tiny egg she guards. Occasionally, her mate will arrive and play wounded in an act of selfless subterfuge, so I'll give a half-hearted chase to boost his ego.

One of the best features of the unremarkable lot is the stand of trees at the edge. Unseen creatures can be heard busying themselves in the underbrush, even over the din of the highway. On one occasion, a bear was cavorting amongst the cars and the super-not-helpful police cruiser that showed up. Anyway, the understory of this little woodland morsel is peppered with wild raspberries, called wineberries by some. I've always assumed that the berries get devoured by animals or coworkers as soon as they ripen, since I've never noticed any good ones in years past. Today I was lucky enough to grab handfuls of ripe fruit as I passed during my constitutional, the canes prolific on either side of the ironically placed dumpster. This bounty in a bleak landscape left me incredulous, but such is the tenacity of nature and the awesomeness of summer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Peas, Please!

Arrived home from work and promptly picked 3.3 pounds of shelling peas, 2.5 pounds of sugar snap peas, and 4 heads of broccoli. Had to stop because my basket was full.

Time to get creative! And also, to start giving produce away. Any takers?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Behold the rare and wondrous micro-beet, prized by chefs and artisanal farmers around the world!

Just kidding. We didn't get around to weeding the beet patch, and this is the pathetic result. NOTE: Root vegetables, especially carrots and beets, are really freakin' hard to weed. It's almost impossible to distinguish beet greens from the dozens of really enthusiastic, invasive weeds in our garden. And we have a particularly crafty weed from the carrot family that's taken over our carrots. The leaves look identical! How the heck are we supposed to tell the difference?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Campanelle with Garlic Scape Pesto and Smoked Scallops

One hour and fifteen minutes. That's the elapsed time between the eating and the blogging of this dish. It's really so good, and made even more so by its fortuitousness. This started out as a kitchen-sink dinner, although that term is a little disrespectful because I had so many gorgeous ingredients just hanging around the house today. First, we had the garlic scapes, which are the unopened flower and stem of an immature hardneck garlic plant. I've tried putting them in salads and sauteeing them with other veggies, and they're okay, but my favorite thing to do with them is make pesto. So I did just that.

There were some house-smoked scallops I got from Metro Seafood in Clinton on Sunday, as well as the glorious bounty of today's CSA share, not to mention the goodies we have in our own garden. My pasta dish came together in one of those beautiful hallelujah sequences in which the one inspirational shaft of sunlight shone through the kitchen window onto my hand as I chose each ingredient.

On the side I served some warm chickpeas with lemon juice, good green olive oil, summer savory, and crumbled pepper-crusted chevre from Cranberry Creek, a newly discovered farmstead creamery in the Poconos that has been knocking our socks off. (We're so lucky they make deliveries to Genesis!)

To be honest, it was probably a little uncomfortable to witness my smugness as we tucked into this meal. Local scapes and basil in the pesto, sugar snap peas and herbs from our own garden, really good cheese. Is the artisanal seafood over the top? I don't care. Even our beverage was soda water with my favorite homemade lime-mint syrup. This recipe is so of-the-moment that by the time you read this the scapes and sugar snap peas may be gone until next year, but please bookmark this. It is so, so good.

Campanelle with Garlic Scape Pesto and Smoked Scallops

2/3 pound short pasta, like campanelle
1/3 pound sugar snap peas, cut into 1-inch lengths
½ cup garlic scape pesto (recipe follows)
¼ pound smoked scallops, thinly sliced

Prepare pesto, then put the pasta water on to boil. Add a couple tablespoons of salt before putting the pasta in the pot. Cook according to package instructions, then drain, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking water. Return pasta to pot and add pesto, mixing until blended. Add pasta water a tablespoon at a time until the sauce is smooth but not watery. Toss in snap peas and spoon into bowls. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top each serving with slices of scallop—the equivalent of about 2 scallops per person.

Serves 4

Garlic Scape and Walnut Pesto
10 garlic scapes, finely chopped
10 basil leaves, or however much you'd like
1/3 to 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan (to taste and texture)
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
About 1/2 cup olive oil

Put the scapes, basil, 1/3 cup of the cheese, walnuts, and half the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor (or use a blender or a mortar and pestle). Whir to chop and blend all the ingredients and then add the remainder of the oil and, if you want, more cheese. If you like the texture, stop; if you'd like it a little thinner, add some more oil. Season with salt.

If you’re not going to use the pesto immediately, press a piece of plastic against the surface to keep it from oxidizing.The pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days or packed airtight and frozen for a couple of months.

Makes about 1 cup
Gotta give credit to Dorie Greenspan. This pesto is a variation on hers.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


This work can be overwhelming. I know it is for Mark because for every task that gets accomplished he can tick off half a dozen things we've fallen behind on or are going wrong. But he's getting better all the time. Part of this grand-scale gardening project is to train ourselves to enjoy the process and wean ourselves off the fleeting high of accomplishing goals that's inevitably followed by the huge letdown of having no occasion to rise to.

So let's talk about something we did right this year: Staggering the broccoli harvest. Last season we had 12 beautiful broccoli heads all ready at the same time, and we couldn't eat them fast enough. This year we went with Fedco's Broccoli Blend seed mix that contains some early, mid, and late varieties. We ate the first wave this week, and the second wave will be ready next week, and some plants have yet to form heads. It's perfect.

Another thing we did right: Leaving the peonies to reign over the vegetable garden in their glory, even if they can be annoying obstacles. It helps that they're in full bloom right now. They were really bothering me when we were laying out the rows in March; I wanted to lay flagstone for the paths, and the space will never look tidy with those huge, blowsy bushes scattered all over. But they're beautiful, smell good, attract beneficial insects, and keeping them is much more true to the permaculture vibe we're trying to cultivate. I need to keep telling myself that there's no such thing as a perfect garden. It will always be a work in progress, never predictable, never finished. And that's a good thing.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Easy Being Green

The tentative yellow-green of the first grass blades and baby leaves of spring have exploded into the lushness of early summer, hanging in the heavy tree canopies overhead and busting out of the garden as the first crops of lettuce and broccoli. But for every crunchy little butterhead there are a dozen thistles and dandelions and other weeds. Mint enjoys something of a double-agent status in our garden, since it can definitely be a pest because it grows so quickly and spreads everywhere, its tough carpet of roots almost impossible to eradicate. The only thing is that I love mint so much that I can't bear to fight it with any real conviction. So instead I harvest it like crazy, making mint-apple jelly, gallons of iced tea, and especially this simple syrup that originally caught my eye because it uses surplus basil, but mint works just as well. We mix it with seltzer when we're feeling virtuous and add some rum when we're feeling less so.

But the real star of today's show is this delightful vegetable side dish that I made for dinner tonight. It's not my own; I got it from Andrea Reusing's Cooking in the Moment via this month's Saveur magazine. With only four ingredients it manages to be sweet, crisp, buttery, creamy, and salty. Best of all, it uses a lot of lettuce, which is coming out our ears right now, and also uses green garlic, which is just immature garlic bulbs and stalks that have a great garlic flavor without being overpowering. Kind of like a scallion, but garlic flavored. It's also sadly underused, in my opinion.

I had a mental block against cooking lettuce, even though there are plenty of respectable recipes out there for grilled and wilted lettuce. Now I am a convert. We ate this for dinner with fried eggs and raisin toast, and it was magical.

Fresh Peas with Lettuce and Green Garlic

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 small stalks green garlic, or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen green peas (I used frozen and they were terrific)
2 small heads butter lettuce (about 6 oz.), washed, cored, and torn into large pieces
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium heat; add garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add peas and cook until bright green and tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in remaining butter, along with lettuce and 1 tablespoon water, season with salt and pepper, and remove from heat. Stir until lettuce is just wilted, about 1 minute.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Like Buttah

New fan favorite Bordeaux spinach and the long-awaited Tom Thumb butterhead lettuce. The spinach is great because even when eaten raw it doesn't squeak between one's teeth, which gives me chills up my spine just thinking about it. The butterhead lettuce is so crisp and curly and succulent I can't get enough of it. Time to fix up a big bowl of leaves dressed simply and stylishly in nice olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rhubarb-Rose Conserve with Cherries

Used this morning's precious nap hour to make rhubarb-rose conserve with cherries. This is the first recipe I've tried from the award-winning Blue Chair Jam Cookbook--with its intriguing recipes and gorgeous, color-saturated photography--and it's a winner! Deep and sweet with just enough tartness to make your mouth water, with a floral edge from the cherries and rose. So easy to make, too. Today, lunch will be Greek yogurt and granola topped with a big scoop of this jam.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dressed Up

Quick, leave me your best salad dressing recipe in the comments! Salad season is officially upon us. Hooray!

Saturday, April 30, 2011


First rhubarb of the season, destined for rhubarb bread that we'll bring with us on our proper Sunday grandparent tour of north Jersey.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hot in Herre [sic]

Is it getting hot in here? Oh, that’s probably just us, because we’ve been ON FIRE in the garden for the past couple of weeks. Ironically, there were several days of painfully cold hands digging in wet, barely workable soil that was quite a bit colder than the outside temperature. And Mark spent a long afternoon digging a trench for the new asparagus (he was dissatisfied with the results of last year’s apocryphal crop after I planted the crowns upside down). P.S. He accidentally dug the 40' trench two times the necessary depth; overachiever or OCD? Both, I think.

It's immensely satisfying to be pretty much on schedule for once, even with the auxiliary projects taken into account. The carrots, beets, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and asparagus are all in the ground, with the rhubarb and peas coming up nicely. The tomatoes have been transplanted and are taking full advantage of the new real estate. Mark is also installing lovely wooden garden gates to replace the fashionable yet functional clothes-pinned deer fencing we’ve been using. The only black cloud on the horizon is the proliferation of groundhogs evidenced by an unsettling number of holes popping up around the yard (not yet in the garden, thankfully). We've also seen one scurrying under our front porch to the delight of Delilah, our unofficial farm hound. We're putting up some ominous warning signs to discourage the little devils from doing anything untoward.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Orange-Apricot Whole Wheat Muffins

A few weeks ago, Mark and Nico and I went to a potluck seed swap where we knew absolutely no one in hopes of meeting some locals in our age bracket who share some interests. We found the event on Meetup through a group called "Reskilling Northwest New Jersey," and I wanted to show that I had actual skills and was not some suburbanite dilettante, so I baked some garlic-rosemary potato bread from my favorite bread cookbook ever.

I got to comparing notes with the hostess, and she told me about her favorite bread cookbook ever, which I promptly got from the library the next day. I was tantalized by a recipe for orange-apricot muffins, but when I made them the first time they didn't turn out exactly as I'd hoped. Granted, I was forced to substitute the baking powder because I'd run out, so that didn't help their appearance, but I wanted more of a citrus punch, and they needed some spice. One half-teaspoon of cinnamon, the only spice, was listed as "optional" for the original recipe and eliminated altogether for the apricot variation (as if!). I tampered with the formula enough that I feel confident calling it my own, but props to Laurel for the inspiration and to Mary for the introduction.

Orange-Apricot Whole Wheat Muffins

1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
pinch baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or apple pie spice
2 tablespoons powdered milk
¾ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 tablespoons honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one orange
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat the oven to 375. Whisk the dry ingredients together, then the wet ingredients. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, making sure not to overmix. Fold in the apricots and almonds; spoon into muffin cups.

Bake for 13-15 minutes or until the center springs back when pressed.

Makes 12 small or 10 larger muffins

Berry Patch

We’ve started a berry patch.

Back story: The previous owner built a chicken coop (tenement) next to the shed at the end of the driveway. The first time we toured the house, we had the opportunity to meet the coop’s future residents when they were just little puffballs chilling out in the master bathroom’s cast-iron clawfoot tub. This made for an interesting first impression, to say the least.

The only problem with the coop is that it’s next to a big, old tree that a sly raccoon used at the first opportunity to break in and feast on some poor chickens. The owner, who had a lot of heart but not the stomach for animal husbandry, called the farm around the corner in tears, traumatized, and demanded that they take the rest of her chickens. They happily obliged. Who knows, we may have eaten their eggs for breakfast yesterday.

Long story long, we thought that fenced-in area would be perfect for a berry patch, out of reach of those long-necked, nimble deer that fearlessly roam our property, as well as the twitchy-nosed rabbits and the evil groundhog that lives under our front porch. That eight-foot fence had better do its job. We took down a partition and installed a raspberry trellis in its place, and we moved the gate for maximum square footage to grow as many goodies as possible. The blackcurrants will be happy there, and we dedicated some space for strawberries that will, alas, have to wait till next year.

Friday, April 15, 2011


See the first brave blooms on one of our Moorpark apricot trees. Last week we bought some gooseberry and black currant plants from a Russian woman who lives nearby and seems to really know her stuff. Her little corner of this brown-lawned, soulless housing development is thick with berry bushes and mature fruit trees poised to come alive in the next few weeks. She warned us that apricots are tough to grow in north Jersey because the early blooms are often killed by a late frost before the fruits have time to form. The guy who taught Mark's fruit-tree pruning class confirmed this, but also said that in a good year he gets plenty of apricots. And me, I'm still seeing visions of apricot tarts dance in my head.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

We hit upon a dynamite system for seed starting this year. No fancy tricks or gadgets, just a slight tweak on the mini-soil block system. The biggest problem with the mini-blocks last year was keeping them moist long enough for the seeds to germinate. The solution? Take-out containers!
That’s right, we started saving heavy duty reheatable plastic food containers. You know, the kind marked as recyclable #6 that no facility seems willing to accept and will probably outlast the human race. Anyway, thanks to an inundation of take-out Thai food on Kate’s birthday, we ended up with six of these abominations. Turns out they’re ideal miniature greenhouses for the smallest sized soil blocks. In conjunction with a heat mat, these babies create a virtual sauna for seeds to germinate in. The evaporated moisture collects on the lid and can easily be dumped back on the blocks. The small size of the mini-blocks enables them to warm up to the optimal germination temperature for heat-loving plants. We sprouted tomatoes and peppers in as few as four days, basil in about two. Germination rates were also impressive (Genovese Basil sprouted 19 out of 20 seeds). Best of all, the containers are ultra-durable and free! (well, sorta free) It’s always super-gratifying to find an unexpected second use for trash. Now, if we can only put all of that used cat dirt to good use...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Bee's Knees

We may be inheriting a few honeybee hives from my uncle's cousin, along with his beekeeping equipment. Mark and I have the enthusiasm but lack the know-how to care for them, so last Friday my dad and I went to a well-timed meeting of the local beekeepers' association. The topic, presented by Jolie Dollar of the Xerces Society, happened to be about drawing native bees as pollinators for your garden, which was right up our alley; however, I wondered how the honeybee enthusiasts felt about inviting interlopers into their carefully crafted habitats.

Turns out my suspicions were well founded. After all, what subculture doesn't have its share of rivalry and controversy? My dad struck up a conversation about acquiring nucs for our hives with a young guy who seemed like one of the most knowledgeable people in the room. Considering this guy raises bees for a living, I was surprised to hear him derisively dismiss native bees as nothing more than a nuisance. He was actually complaining how hard they were to exterminate. Meanwhile, I had just exchanged a figurative fist-bump with the presenter over our shared love of permaculture.

Not surprisingly, we'll have to make sure we partner ourselves with an apiculture mentor who shares our holistic, low-intervention approach. Beekeeping is pretty difficult, with hives being felled right and left by everything from mites to nocema to the still-mysterious colony collapse disorder (CCD) to a hard winter like the one we've had this year. There's this awesome-looking class coming up at Genesis, but it's not until July, and we'll need to act quickly if we plan to establish some hives this year. In the meantime, I'm friendly with the wife of the professional beekeeper teaching that class, so a well-placed phone call might be in order.

This article on baby boomers taking up apiculture is timely as well, since I think I was one of three non-boomers at that meeting last week. Four, if you include the speaker.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Signs of Spring

I think this will be enough to sustain me through the next few chilly weeks.

The first brave crocuses.

Planting the cherry trees.

Baby rhubarb.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dirty Fingernails

The alliums (leeks, shallots, onions, scallions) are getting all tall and gangly, and this weekend we plant the rest of the spring seeds--greens and broccoli. Next week is the grand St. Patrick's Day tradition of planting peas, which gives me genuine hope that spring is on its way.

Last weekend was our first chance to get dirty in the garden this year, clearing out the woody remains of last year's pepper plants and herbs. My scratched-up arms are telling me that we won't be planting those thorny Ma Waeng eggplants again!

Even though it was in the mid-50s, the piles of tomato vines we'd piled up in November were still frozen to the ground. My stash of leeks in the corner is alive and well, though--soon they should be cooperative enough for us to pull and eat.

After this long, cold winter of the screaming baby, dirt under my fingernails never felt so good.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Where all my homeys at? And by “homeys” I mean thirtysomething gardeners interested in permaculture and obscure vegetables, readers of Michael Pollan, preferably not living in Brooklyn. Is that too specific?

Not that I have anything against Brooklyn. But hip urbanites in H&M wardrobes boasting rooftop gardens and apiaries who ply their wares at the Park Slope Co-op, all to an indie-rock soundtrack, give me pause in a way that my neighbor’s farm in rural northwest New Jersey does not.

Do I sound elitist? I don’t mean it that way. Here’s an analogy: In another life, Mark and I were involved in the Baltimore underground music scene. When a local band got signed to a major label, the community perceived the mainstream recognition as both the best and the worst thing that could possibly happen. While we all want our favorite band to make it big, we fear losing the intimate community of early fans. The band blows up and when they visit your hometown on their nationwide tour you have to shell out $50 for a ticket in a stadium just to watch them as a speck on the distant stage. Suddenly everyone you meet is a fan of the band and you no longer feel special. Many of the new fans have an obviously superficial interest, riding the crest of the band’s popularity and then promptly chasing the next wave. But you knew them way back when!

Let’s face it; gardening is trendy right now—which, don’t get me wrong, is wonderful!—but I get a little rankled that the Food Network is jocking my style. When a friend starts asking me questions about starting a garden, they have a hard time getting me to shut up. I fall all over myself to start seeds for them, give them guided tours of my favorite herb farm, research colorful varieties of vegetables that will grow best in their climate, regale them with the pros and cons of raised beds. But when I see Andrew Zimmern yapping about his enthusiasm for local food, I change the channel.

Almost a decade ago, Mark and I planted some tomatoes, corn, and some thyme and basil in the yard of our first little brick house in the unfashionable outskirts of Washington, DC. Before that we grew tomatoes in pots on the tiny balcony of our apartment. The herbs thrived, the tomatoes were decent, and the corn never saw the light of day. The deer ate every single pansy I planted along the front walk, so I replanted and sprayed them with a non-toxic solution that smelled so bad our new neighbors probably thought we were stashing dead bodies in the garage. We struggled through an 18-month siege against the wall of unsettling, phallic bamboo that had initially made our backyard so peaceful and ambient but turned our entire yard into a battlefield.

Every year we have been a little more successful, and our efforts have become more ambitious. By now we’ve read thousands of pages about gardening, hoovered up knowledge from the folks who run our biodynamic CSA, taken courses in food politics, researched recipes to use bizarre scorzonera and bushels of kale, and learned food preservation techniques. In 2009 we moved out to the country and broke ground on a 4,000-square-foot garden. Our passion is authentic and deep, and our enthusiasm can be contagious (and occasionally, I’ll bet, annoying and tedious to our loved ones). We’re slowly but steadily working on acquiring chickens and bees, and on sacrificing most of our considerable lawn to fruit trees. I’m greatly enjoying the proliferation of public discourse about gardening and our nation’s food system, and in fact I believe this discussion is vital to meaningful change. But I don’t feel trendy, and it’s getting harder to discern individuals and organizations that are genuinely like-minded. My beef, for example, is with the local chef (unnamed, to protect the guilty) who tells her customers she’s sourcing her ingredients sustainably from neighboring farms, then goes and buys everything at Wal-Mart.

What a poseur.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Leek House

The pungent, mineral smell of dirt in our house once again makes me happy. Outside, I still have to wend my way through a labyrinth of narrow paths between the huge snowdrifts that refuse to melt; inside, we're planting leeks. The shelves, with fluorescent lights swinging from chains, have taken up residence in our living room for the next four months (FOUR MONTHS!). Only two weeks till we plant the rest of the alliums--scallions, onions, shallots. One of these days there's got to be a sign of spring.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Don't Call It a Comeback

We've been here for years, digging with our peers and puttin' weeds in fear...

Um, sorry about that. ANYWAY, technically this is only our second year at the farmstead, but we've been at this for a good five years now. I'll even venture to say that we're hitting our stride, but I doubt I could get Mark to admit to any such nonsense.

A new year, a new leaf. Lots of ‘em, hopefully. Mark's resolution for this year is to post less more often. A lot of his posts have been somewhat dense in the past; this is supposed to be a garden blog, not Ulysses. That being said, we're going to immediately break that resolution. It’s time for SEED LIST 2011!!!

We usually drop about $100 on seeds every year but we managed to cut it down to around $75 this time. This is because we saved a decent amount of (hopefully viable) seed from last year. And now (drum roll, please), we present the list!
  • Basil, Genovese - One word: PESTO!
  • Beans, Masai (Bush, String) - Long-producing delicate haricot verts. Yum.
  • Beans, Tiger's Eye (Bush, Shell) - We’re eating our first harvest right now, and it’s amazing. And the plants don’t need support--score!
  • Beets, 3 Root Grex - Comes in three exciting colors!
  • Broccoli, Fedco Mix - A mystery bag of brassification. Designed to mature at different times.
  • Calendula, Resina - A big producer of odoriferous resin. Sounds gross, but not if you’re a bee.
  • Carrots, Scarlet Nantes - We skipped carrots last year so we’re sticking with a powerhouse.
  • Chives - One can never have too many.
  • Cilantro, Carib - Promises not to immediately bolt upon seeing sunlight. We’re skeptical.
  • Corn, Luscious - The name says it all.
  • Cumin - Trying this as a pot herb.
  • Fenugreek - See Cumin.
  • Greens, Siamese Dragon - Adorable baby Asian greens. Been meaning to grow these for years.
  • Lavender, French - Probably won’t be frost-hardy, but we are going to try anyway.
  • Leek, Bleu de Solaise - Big success last year. A few poor souls may successfully overwinter.
  • Leek, Lincoln - Earlier harvest, longer shaft (heh heh, you said “shaft”).
  • Lemongrass - Pot herb 3.0.
  • Lemon Balm - Crown jewel of the much-anticipated herb spiral (more to come about that).
  • Lettuce, Cimarron - Red loose leaf for the “connoisseur” (scare quotes by Kate) who disdains the buttery head.
  • Lettuce, Tom Thumb (Butterhead) - Kate is always stalking the elusive butterhead.
  • Marigold, Harlequinn - Now performing in full sun for the first time ever!
  • Melon, Cream Of Saskatchewan - After being disappointed that last year’s melons weren’t that sweet, here we attempt to rectify.
  • Melon, Sakata's Sweet - Some of us like our melons Asian.
  • Nasturtium, Empress Of India - Chasing the flavor of that first big, spicy nasturtium Kate tasted as a child.
  • Okra, Burmese - Another sun-loving failure from our shadier past.
  • Onion, Stuttgarter - Long-day storage heirloom. So great we can’t remember why we ordered it.
  • Onion, Walla Walla - Scallions on steroids: a sweet bulbing allium that won’t keep. (We may have jumped the gun on the harvest with these last year).
  • Oregano - Needs no introduction.
  • Oregano, Zaatar - Just because this reminds us of the spice blend we love so much.
  • Parsley, Giant Of Italy - A necessity. Also a big hit with marauding wildlife.
  • Rosemary - Nothing quippy here; we just keep killing them every year.
  • Scallion, Evergreen - Can’t get enough of ‘em. We were harvesting these babies well into fall.
  • Shallot, Prisma - Feeling a little un-Ambitious this year (boooooo...)
  • Spinach, Bordeaux - Going for a bit of French terroir in Morris County.
  • Sunflower, Mammoth Grey Stripe - We’re finally able to grow these ten-foot beauties, which supposedly offer tasty seeds as well.
  • Thyme, German - Always seem to be running out of it.
  • Tomato, Green Grape - Although the Isis Candy variety has served us well for year, the spicy description of this cherry tomato was too enticing to pass up.
  • Tomato, Rose de Berne - Sweet, pink, round...wait, we’re talking tomatoes here, right?
  • Winter squash, Uncle Dave's Dakota Dessert - Even sweeter than Buttercup; need I say more?
  • Basil, Thai Queenette - Super fragrant and productive last year, originally from Johnny’s.
  • Borage - The bees went bonkers for the bombastically beautiful blue borage bouqet.
  • Dill - Grown for the flowers, since we’re not big fans of the flavor (except pickles, natch).
  • Ground cherry, Aunt Molly's - Last year’s surprise hit. Impressed everybody that tried them. Except the liars.
  • Holy basil - We usually grow this tropical herb in a pot, but the one we grew in the garden last year thrived. This year we’ll dispense with the pots altogether.
  • Pepper, Golden Treasure - Sweet, big, and thin walled. And slugs love ‘em!
  • Pepper, Hot Lemon - Obligatory and unique.
  • Pepper, Aji Dulce - Kate’s favorite pepper in the world. The sweet, buttery flavor of a habanero without the heat.
  • Pepper, Thai Bird - Managed to save a few seeds from the fruits of a 2 year old potted plant.
  • Pepper, Thai Burapa - The seed from these scorchers originated from peppers.
  • Peas, Green Arrow (shelling) - Can’t wait to see how these do with actual trellising.
  • Peas, Sugar Snap - We got a great harvest even though we neglected these poor springtime all-stars (thanks a lot, stupid baby)
  • Tomato, San Marzano - Perfect for canning and don’t spoil nearly as quickly as some other tomatoes we won’t mention...
  • Tomato, Gold Medal - New favorite, edging out dear old Nyagous. The fruit flies agree!
  • Zinnia, Persian Carpet - Nico’s big contribution last year, these were beautiful bursts of color popular with both humans and their apian buddies.
If you have experience with any of these varieties, please share. We’re also looking for folks interested in local seed swapping. Anyone know of organized groups in north Jersey? Anyone interested in starting one?

Stay tuned for potatoes and asparagus. Bet you can’t wait!